During my first semester I took a class at Hopkins entitled Education & Society. This class was my first experience with sociology and it allowed me to truly grasp new concepts in education theory. One of the most interesting topics we learned about was how the length of the school year affects students’ grades and scores on standardized tests. One specific article we read—“Time for School?” by David E. Marcotte and Benjamin Hansen—discussed the issues with increasing the length of the school year and the direct correlation that has with standardized testing assessments.
The authors do concede that there is an inherent problem with their research data: the length of the school year is an individual, choice variable. They then discuss the issues with extending the school year and the monetary costs of doing so. Therefore, Marcotte and Hansen concluded that, “…comparing a district with a long school year to one with a shorter year historically often amounted to comparing a rich school district to a poor one.” When I first read this article I was truly struck—this seems like an ideal example of the unfairness that is plaguing schools in low-income communities.
I was equally surprised to read a New York Times article covering the same topic from February 11, 2013: “French Plan to Add to Already Lengthy School Days Angers Parents and Teachers”. The article discusses that French schools receive Wednesdays off as a day meant for religious studies. However, in now-secular France, the free Wednesdays simply mean that upper-class children have the means to find additional studies while lower-class children struggle to occupy themselves. The article says that this controversial plan is angering teachers unions, parent associations, and bureaucratic governments, even though it plans to benefit young children and help close the widening gap between rich and poor.
I would love to see the French school reforms push through—then maybe we can start discussing why the American school year is one of the shortest in the world? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.