Obama needs to focus on quality education

President Barack Obama holds a press conference in Oak Bluff, Massachusetts, announcing the reappointment of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to a second term, Tuesday, August 25, 2009.

President Barack Obama promised America change, and now he’s threatening to deliver it in the form of longer school days and shortened summer vacations.

“Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas,” Obama said, according to The Associated Press, “Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.”

It’s disappointing when Obama examines the shortcomings of our school system, he’s so quick to blame them on the amount of time kids are spending in the classroom. This is a superficial response to a serious problem.

There isn’t sufficient evidence backing his plan. As reported by The Associated Press, kids in the U.S. spend 1,146 hours in school per year. And yet Asian countries such as Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong score higher in math and science but keep their children in school for fewer hours – 903, 1,050, 1,005 and 1,013, respectively.

I spent five years in public elementary school (kindergarten through third grade), six years as a home schooler (fourth grade through ninth) and three years in a private high school.

Before I began home schooling, math was the subject I struggled with the most. I was trapped in a system that had a rigid pace for learning and shamed students who didn’t constantly keep up with the pace and maintain average scores. Add to this the fact math is a subject that requires mastery of one concept before moving on to the next, and it was easy to fall behind and be left discouraged.

I can remember as a third grader paying more attention to the clock than my math teacher because I had made up my mind I was bad at math. And I do blame the system for stifling any natural curiosity I had that would have otherwise motivated me.

After I started home schooling, math almost immediately became my best subject. When I needed extra help in an area, I received it. When I understood things on my own (and I often did) I was left alone. I chose to go at three times the pace my mom had hoped I would keep.

By the time I was in junior high I was taking classes at the local community colleges including algebra II, trigonometry and geometry. As a sophomore at my private high school, I was the youngest in my Calculus class.

I am not suggesting home schooling is always a better choice than public school, but I have no doubt public school administrators could learn a lot from alternative forms of education.

Keeping kids in the classroom longer would not be cheap. The extra money would be better spent on piquing children’s interest in learning through more field trips, or providing more opportunities for individual attention through a higher teacher-to-student ratio.

Whatever the solution is, it’s certainly not making the classroom feel more like a jail cell by detaining kids even longer. We need to focus on increasing the quality of education, not the quantity.

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