Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Hard (School) Day's Night

I'm willing to meet Mike Feinberg halfway, but I'm not so sure the feeling would be mutual.

Feinberg is co-founder of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), as well as being the superintendent of KIPP Houston. KIPP is a network of 82 high-performing public charter schools serving 21,000 children in 19 states.

Feinberg's program is rooted in the premise that the school day is too short. And the school year, too.

But Feinberg takes it to another level. His KIPP schools' classes run from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and the kids attend school two Saturdays a month, and they have three weeks of mandatory summer school.

Feinberg has a gob of stats that say his extended school days and years are the best thing since sliced bread. You can read that laundry list in his editorial for CNN.com.

I'm a parent, so I'm concerned about my child's education as well. But I have different concerns than Feinberg, I think.

You see, I'm also a former child, as I'm pretty sure Feinberg is. But he seems to forget that kids need time to be, well, kids.

So here's where I'm willing to meet Feinberg halfway.

I'd be open to consider the notion of longer school days---just consider it, mind you---if Feinberg and others who espouse it are willing to address my notion of, "Will it cut down on homework?"

If not, then it's off the table, as far as I'm concerned.



Mike Feinberg


A longer school day should also mean more time to complete assignments---in class. That is, if Feinberg would argue that the massive amounts of homework are a bi-product of too-short days.

And what of after school activities? Where's the time for those? And who wants to hang out after school after being there for nine-and-a-half hours and two Saturdays a month?

I have a full-time job with a nice salary and benefits and I'm not in the office as long as Feinberg's kids attend school each day; they have me beat by an hour a day.

Do we want our kids in school longer than most moms and dads spend time at work?

"Take away time, take away learning," Feinberg writes. "...there is no substitute for the hours a student spends with an effective and inspiring teacher," he adds.

Ahh, those disclaiming words: "effective" and "inspiring."

Not every teacher is those things, and Feinberg ought to know that.

I'm not trying to change Feinberg's mind; I'm sure his success stories are genuine. I'm just not sold that we have to push our kids as far as he'd like us to.

"Students actually look forward to their weekend KIPP days, when they get extra academic help and participate in activities such as cooking, knitting, soccer or African drumming," Feinberg argues.

Every student, Mike? Or just some?

He closes with references to China, and cites the Chinese's longer school days/year.

"This means that American children may eventually compete with Chinese kids who have had thousands of more hours of learning time."

I admit, it's food for thought. But 7:30-5:00 is simply too damn long. It's not necessary.

You can only be a kid once. Sadly.

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