President Obama doesn’t just have plans to reform American policies on health care, national security, and international relations—he also has great plans for education reform, including lengthening both school days and school years.
Although the president is aware that “longer school days and school years are not wildly popular” with any student or family, he appears to believe that longer school days and years are necessary to compete with other nations’ education systems, despite the fact that American students already spend more time in school than their primary competitors in education. According to the Associated Press, “kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests — Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013).” It is worth noting that students in those countries spend fewer hours in school than do U.S. students, even though Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong have school years up to three weeks longer than the United States.
President Obama may have let his true agenda slip when he went on to say that not only should schools open longer to provide more education—schools should also “let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go.”
In other words, President Obama’s suggestion that schools be open longer may not be entirely motivated by concern for education. In fact, it is entirely possible that “education” in the traditional sense of the word is not his goal at all.
“Our school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy and not too many of our kids are working the fields today,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said recently, to justify Obama’s proposal to lengthen time in school. It is clear that Duncan has not had much experience with rural Americans, many of whom do grow up in an agrarian atmosphere and who depend on the summers-off public school system to make the family farms possible. As of 2003, non-metropolitan America contained 80% of America’s land and 56 million Americans—no small number.
However, what might be good for urban areas like Chicago may not be good for the rest of America. Admittedly, metropolitan areas contain 58% of America’s population, but that still leaves a remaining 42% of rural and suburban Americans whose communities may not be suited for an urban-oriented education policy. While it is true that in recent years American farming has declined, it would be ridiculous to think that a policy good for urban children would automatically also be good for those in farming communities, who live a very different lifestyle.
It is also possible that President Obama has more in mind for his education reforms than merely lengthening the days. Obama grew up in an area where “education” programs often provide far more than traditional education. One such program, Head Start, actually is meant “to provide comprehensive child development services to economically disadvantaged children and families… by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children through the provision of educational, health, nutritional, social and other services to enrolled children and families” (emphasis added). In the words of former congressman George Q. Cannon, “If the government owes to the child schooling, it also by a parity of reasoning, owes to it food and clothing at public expense.” And indeed, it appears that President Obama may apply a “parity of reasoning” to his education policy.
The enthusiasm with which President Obama has defended and promoted his health care reform bill should be examined here. The health care bill President Obama supports authorizes states to send in “staff” to “provide parents with knowledge of age-appropriate child development in cognitive, language, social, emotional, and motor domains … modeling, consulting, and coaching on parenting practices” (see sections 440 and 1904). These provisions are in a health care bill that President Obama strongly advocates—despite the fact that child development classes have very little to do with health care in the literal sense. Child development classes have much more to do with education than health care; if education-related home visits can make it into a health care bill, it stands to reason that an actual education bill would contain more of the same. Already, the president has “highlighted a proposal to offer 55,000 first-time parents ‘regular visits from trained nurses to help make sure their children are healthy and prepare them for school and life.’”
At this point it is still too early to discern true motivations behind a future education bill. However, there are many reasons why Americans should approach such a bill with skepticism. President Obama insists that “the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom,” and it appears as though he will do what he can to make this extra classroom time happen.