Friday, August 25, 2006

Reasons to Avoid Government Schools - Part 4

Continuing on from Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Institutionalized education wastes time.

Of a 6 hour school day, an average of 3 hours or less are spent on actual instructional time. Taking Teaching & Learning Seriously (TTLS), an educational e-journal created by the EECE faculty and students of Kennesaw State University, reports that "50% of classroom time is lost due to student misbehavior and being off task." So, most students receive about an hour and a half of instructional time per day at school and only a few minutes per week of one on one instructional time from a teacher.

I came across this report, entitled Prisoners Of Time, on the U. S. Department of Education home page. (Quotes from the report are in red)

    "If experience, research, and common sense teach nothing else, they confirm the truism that people learn at different rates, and in different ways with different subjects. But we have put the cart before the horse: our schools and the people involved with them-students, parents, teachers, administrators, and staff-are captives of clock and calendar. The boundaries of student growth are defined by schedules for bells, buses, and vacations instead of standards for students and learning."

    "No matter how complex or simple the school subject-literature, shop, physics, gym, or algebra-the schedule assigns each an impartial national average of 51 minutes per class period, no matter how well or poorly students comprehend the material."

    "Secondary school graduation requirements are universally based on seat time-'Carnegie units,' a standard of measurement representing one credit for completion of a one-year course meeting daily."

Thus students think they are entitled to a diploma because they have served their time, not because they have actually learned something.

    "Staff salary increases are typically tied to time-to seniority and the number of hours of graduate work completed."

Yet again, rewards are based on time served not quality of service.

    "Despite the obsession with time, little attention is paid to how it is used: in 42 states examined by the Commission, only 41 percent of secondary school time must be spent on core academic subjects."


    "Decades of school improvement efforts have foundered on a fundamental design flaw, the assumption that learning can be doled out by the clock and defined by the calendar. Research confirms common sense. Some students take three to six times longer than others to learn the same thing. Yet students are caught in a time trap-processed on an assembly line scheduled to the minute. Our usage of time virtually assures the failure of many students.

    Under today's practices, high-ability students are forced to spend more time than they need on a curriculum developed for students of moderate ability. Many become bored, unmotivated, and frustrated. They become prisoners of time.

    Struggling students are forced to move with the class and receive less time than they need to master the material. They are penalized with poor grades. They are pushed on to the next task before they are ready. They fall further and further behind and begin living with a powerful dynamic of school failure that is reinforced as long as they remain enrolled or until they drop out. They also become prisoners of time.

    What of 'average' students? They get caught in the time trap as well. Conscientious teachers discover that the effort to motivate the most capable and help those in difficulty robs them of time for the rest of the class. Typical students are prisoners of time too."

    "The traditional school day, originally intended for core academic learning, must now fit in a whole set of requirements for what has been called 'the new work of the schools'-education about personal safety, consumer affairs, AIDS, conservation and energy, family life, driver's training-as well as traditional nonacademic activities, such as counseling, gym, study halls, homeroom, lunch and pep rallies. The school day, nominally six periods, is easily reduced at the secondary level to about three hours of time for core academic instruction."


    "Students in other post-industrial democracies receive twice as much instruction in core academic areas during high school."

    "Schools abroad protect academic time by distinguishing between the 'academic day' and the 'school day.'

    "Another distinction that can be drawn between American education and schooling abroad is in consequences for school performance. In Germany and Japan, learning matters. Performance, not seat time, is what counts. Students understand that what they learn in school will make a real difference to their chances in life. In the United States, paper credentials count. Apart from the small percentage of students interested in highly selective colleges and universities, most students understand that possession of even a mediocre high school diploma is enough to get them into some kind of college or job."

The report was written to support the argument that we need longer school days and more school days. And, of course, that schools need more taxpayer money. While I agree with the data used in the report, I think they missed the point. Institutions are grossly ineffective at using time (and money). Basic literacy and math skills can be mastered in only a few years, yet we have students who have spent 13 years in the system who can't do either. Giving the school system more time, is like raising the credit limit to accommodate a shopping spree. Just as shopping with a credit card is spending someone else's money, lengthening the school day and year is spending someone else's time.

With home based education, families control how their children's educational time is spent. The speed and level of instruction can be tailored to fit the needs of the child. For example, my daughters have benefited from a slower pace for reading instruction. Developmentally, they were not ready to read before age 8 or 9. Reading instruction before that developmental window was reached, would have been (and was) a waste of time. Once that developmental maturity was reached, the acquisition of reading skills took very little time and effort.

Soon after my oldest daughter's 8th birthday, she began to read complex books entirely on her own. She literally went from NOT willingly reading Cat in the Hat, to plowing through Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on her own. In 4th grade, I had her keep a reading log. I discovered that she was reading 60 chapter books a month. This is from a child that didn't read any books in the second grade.

The time we didn't spend in "reading" and spelling** instruction, we spent on the study of history, science and geography, mostly in the form of books on tape. As a result, my children acquired an advanced vocabulary, an ear for correct grammar, and a world view that was rich in historical facts and scientific data. [**Note: it is a waste of time to teach spelling to a child who can't read]

If we had focused on reading skills, like most of the school programs do, we would have been restricted to books which used short words, a limited vocabulary, short sentences and simple concepts. That would have been a waste of more than just time.

Parents can educate their children more efficiently than the government school system. For parents who don't need the school system for "day care" purposes, homeschooling can provide the opportunity for a custom fit education that leaves time for the pursuit of other interests.

See Reasons to Avoid Government Schools - Part 5.

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Green Darner said...

"Time" was the number one reason we decided to homeschool. My son got on the bus at 6:45am and got home at 4:15pm. That's over 9 hours! How did he spend most of that time? BORED BORED BORED! Waiting for lessons, waiting for other students, waiting in line. What a waste of time. Time which could be put to better use at home.

Now that we homeschool - he has become a lot less angry and more loving towards his sister and the rest of us. Turns out, you can't devolop strong relationships with your family if you spend 9 hours a day away from them. Relationships take time, too.

Janine Cate said...

9 hours, wow! That's a long time for a little kid.

6:45 am is pretty early in the morning for a child to be going out the door to school.

Lack of sleep can interfer with relationships too.

Anonymous said...

This is really interesting. I linked to you this morning. I hope that's OK!

Anonymous said...

I may be misreading, but I think you've halved the time twice in your first paragraph. In your first sentence, you attribute 3 hours to academics, and in your last sentence, only 1 1/2 hours.

I hate to quibble, but I thought you would want it to be correct.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear that about slower reading girls -- most of what I've read has been the trend among boys. My 7yo daughter has decided she can't read -- when I know she can -- but I've decided not to push it, that she'll be ready when she's ready. But I doubt myself all the time!

Janine Cate said...

Actually, 1 and 1/2 hours is generous. In a 6 hour school day, only 41% is used for academic subjects like science and math. The rest is for things like lunch, recess, gym, study hall, a fire drill, a pep rally, a school assembly, a holiday party, and on and on.

Of the 2 and 1/2 hours of school time devoted to academics, 50% is lost to student misbehavior and poor classroom management.

That leaves, on average 1 hour and 15 mintues of actual classroom instruction.

Some schools, of course, do better than others.

Janine Cate said...

We love to be linked to.


Anonymous said...

Aaaah! See, I did misread it! But I got it now: only half the day is given over to academics, and then half of that is wasted.

Well, I would have to say that's a reasonable assesment. And the schools know it, too. That's why so many are doing block schedules: they figure that by doubling the time per class, they are halving the time wasted on attendance, announcements, clean up, etc.

Henry Cate said...

"I'm glad to hear that about slower reading girls -- most of what I've read has been the trend among boys. My 7yo daughter has decided she can't read -- when I know she can -- but I've decided not to push it, that she'll be ready when she's ready. But I doubt myself all the time!"

Gem, older two daughters take after me. (It looks like our younger daughter may be taking after my wife.) I was a late reader. I think in fourth or fifth grade I was reading at second grade level. I hit the Black Stallion series and took off.

Historically schools didn't push reading till children were eight years old. Some children are developmently ready sooner, but others, like your children and myself, take longer.

You may be already doing this, try checking out lots of different books up tapes. Children's comprehension can be several grade levels above their reading ability. We started our daughters off on "The Boxcar Children" series.

Good luck.