Teacher! Leave Those Kids Alone!

At a time when budget cuts and teacher layoffs are hurting students and teachers alike, the Obama administration is straining an already vulnerable school system by trying to add hours to the school day while lengthening the school year and shortening summer break. President Obama recently made statements regarding the U.S. school system, saying, “the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.” The president has argued that other countries are outperforming our students because they spend longer hours at school, and he believes that it is now important for American students to match their hours. He also wants schools to be open until a later time and on weekends so that students can have a safe place to go.

The fault in this logic is that it assumes that quantity will automatically produce quality.

It’s not to say that staying at school longer will not help students, it has actually been proven in multiple instances. But adding hours alone cannot solve the system’s problems. There are so many intervening variables when dealing with the success of students in America that could contribute to differing results between the U.S. and other nations. The difference could be cultural in countries where there is a higher family responsibility for students to be successful in school. The discrepancy could also be caused by the difference in the country’s school system and its funding. In the U.S., there is an unequal disbursement of funds within states as well as in cities. About 46% of public funding for the K-12 system is obtained from local government budgets. It defines how much money the city earns, so the students in privileged neighborhoods get to enjoy a quality education while struggling neighborhoods deal with underpaid, under-qualified teachers. Even though most parents would be willing to make the extra drive from Santa Ana to Newport Beach, there would be restrictions by the local government. Obviously, this would have a big effect on the content that is taught to the children and in what matter.

The blame cannot go to students alone; students can only be as successful as their resources will allow them. Teachers today are underpaid and at many times do not have the skills needed to help their students succeed. Teachers are having a hard time keeping students engaged with the time that they have now, so how can longer hours solve that problem? The high school dropout rate is alarming, thirty percent nationwide and an astounding 50 percent in major cities. These will only get worse if the school makes them work longer. Instead of filling the time with tedious work, the school should invest in programs that are aimed toward community service. A peer mentor program should be established in which students can tutor or mentor children in lower grades. It would benefit the younger student who would receive advice from a peer, while teaching older students real world applications of their educational experience.

In some cases, there must be accountability for the people interacting with students rather than solely the parents. Something obviously isn’t working, and it cannot be solved quickly. That is why it is important to carefully diagnose the problems before any program or funding is implemented. As education has taken a big hit from the recession, it would be very risky to incorporate a solution that is not thoroughly planned and expensive. Adding more hours to the school day will require extra funding beyond simply compensating teachers and faculty. It would require providing additional meals, electricity, and transportation. The cost will be especially apparent during the summer, when the electricity costs usually rise.

In sum, the money that it would take to achieve such a massive reform would be better spent toward comprehensive training for teachers. Teachers should be held as accountable as the student for their grades. A poor grade for a student should also be viewed as a “bad mark” for the teacher in that it reflects their teaching abilities. Increasing the teacher’s accountability for the student’s grade will stop teachers from washing their hands of failing students. Not only should there be accountability on the side of the students and their parents, but also on the schools and whom they decide will teach the future generation. Smaller class sizes and a better student to teacher ratio would be a key factor in success. The more teachers can learn about their students and their skills and weaknesses, the better equipped they will be to help to satisfy their academic needs.

Sophia Solis is a fourth-year political science major. She can be reached at sophias@uci.edu.