There seem to be more and more proposals to lengthen the school day (or year). Someday I will list all of my objections to that idea. (Briefly: I think the benefits are speculative to the point of illusory and are entirely outweighed by the costs. More is not always better.) For now, I’d like to point out just one bothersome aspect of the discussion – one that is true of the discussion of many so-called school “reform” proposals.
Suppose we could confidently identify some quantifiable benefit from subjecting kids to hundreds more hours of school each year. Suppose we knew, say, that requiring full-day school attendance would eventually increase the math abilities of the average adult by five percent. Should we do it? Suppose it would increase ability by only three percent, and suppose that we’d need to send the kids to school year-round, six days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. to achieve that gain. Would it be worth it? Can the burden on kids ever be too great, or the potential gain too minimal, to justify the compulsion?
If so, you wouldn’t know it from today’s educational debates. The discussions focus exclusively on whether any given proposal would “increase achievement.” Whether that alleged gain is big enough to justify the burden on children is simply not a concern. Who cares about burdens on children?
Adults hold the state to a pretty high standard: we expect that the government won’t impose on our freedom without a good reason, and the bigger the imposition, the more compelling the reason should be. With kids, though, any justification at all will do. If it raises test scores, we must do it! Children’s freedoms count for nothing at all. It’s as if the scale has only one side, and is thus tipped by any “achievement gain” whatsoever. How easy it is to require sacrifices from people who have no say in the matter.
Of course, we could also “increase achievement” by requiring adults to undergo continuing education throughout their lives. If anyone ever proposes that, something tells me there will suddenly be two sides to the scale.