Make summer… shorter?

Now that summer seems to be just around the corner — peculiarly early this year, but I’ll let Baldassare take on that argument — it’s a perfect time to discuss … why summer vacation should be shortened by lengthening the school year. Now before you get all hot and bothered, I’m not talking making college semesters longer, but K-12 education.Currently, American students spend 180 days in school, shorter than students in England (190) and Australia (200), and lagging far behind South Korea and Japan, where students are in class for 243 days.The consequences of this disparity are clear. A 2005 study of eighth grade standardized test scores of 12 industrialized nations funded by the Department of Education ranked the United States eighth in math and ninth in science. China and Japan topped both lists.President Obama has expressed support in increasing the length of the school year. Though lengthening the school year is about as popular as Congress — 16 percent approval and rolling, baby — it is a step that needs to be taken to close the gap between American schoolchildren and their overseas counterparts. Studies suggest that such a long summer recess is bad for students, who often forget much of what they learned the year before. This is a double-edged sword ­— as productivity is lost when teachers have to spend time reiterating past material.Education has dropped out of the national discussion just like millions of American students are dropping out of high school. A 2009 Alliance for Excellent Education report listed the graduation rate of American high school students at 71 percent. This translates into 1.2 million student dropouts each year, more than half of whom are persons of color. Denmark, Japan, Poland, Germany and Finland post graduation rates of above 90 percent. A classic American solution is to throw more money at the problem, though this may not be an effective measure. A 2008 piece in TIME magazine stated that the United States already spends more money per pupil than most other industrialized nations, yet still lags behind in math and science. This doesn’t suggest, however, that education isn’t underfunded at the federal level. The 2009 Department of Education budget was $62.6 billion, just 9.5 percent of the $651 billion budget of the Department of Defense. The White House and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have also moved to reform the No Child Left Behind Act, which passed with huge bipartisan support in 2001, by issuing an outline titled “A Blueprint for Reform.” Instead of relying on strict standards for schools to meet, the Obama plan is more flexible. The plan also extends support to public charter schools, which have longer school days as well as mandatory summer classes.Education reform is a boring topic, but one that is as integral to our nation’s growth as improving our health care system or infrastructure. Hey, a few more days indoors in June isn’t going to kill anyone. In fact, you might learn something.