Extending the school year will just give schools more time to be mediocre. Two basic changes need to be made that only involve going back to the “old days.”
The end of homogeneous grouping in classes goes back to the 1970s. Mixing kids at all stages of their learning makes teaching to the group very difficult. With students at widely varying stages of development and learning in one class where do you aim your teaching? Grouping students by their stages of learning – notice I said “stages of learning,” not intelligence – allows the teacher to develop lesson plans that suit the students in that group. It also allows those students who need more help to be in smaller classes.
My fifth grade class had 45 students. Another class had 30. Some claim that slower learners were “tracked;” doomed to be in slower classes forever and dismissed as having little academic potential. That would only happen with lazy teachers and administrators.
At my school there was a lot of movement between the three levels at each grade. That means the teachers were evaluating students and trying to place them in the most appropriate setting.
With students coming from a second K-6 school there were five seventh and eighth grade classes. Again, grouped by one’s stage of learning. Again, the most advanced class was considerably larger than the slowest class. I look back and I see college graduates and skilled workers in who came all the classes. They could go on and do well in high school and beyond because they were not expected to learn things they were not ready to learn.
The second problem is more recent. The expectations of what kids should be able to do before starting kindergarten is ridiculous. Back in “the old days” kindergarten was about learning to sit still, listen, follow directions, share, and socialize with other kids. No one went to preschool.
I read a list of what kids are now expected to be able to do before starting kindergarten and was stunned and dismayed. Count to 30? Recognize the letters of the alphabet? Sound out simple words? Write their name? Yes, some kids can do these. Other kids are not developed enough. By expecting every kid to learn what a few others can learn is just setting them up for frustration. That frustration can carry on year after year until the student decides, “I’m just not very smart” and largely gives up on school.
When I taught high school math we gave a placement test to incoming freshmen who were recommended by the middle school to be in either Algebra 1 or Intro to Algebra. One year – at the insistence of the administration – we placed all those students together. We tested after three weeks and split the classes into Intro and Algebra 1 classes. Immediately after the split a student in one of my Intro classes said, “I’m glad those guys (the Algebra 1 students) are out of here.” Other students agreed.
Simply having more time in the classroom will not result in improved outcomes. Spending more money – like paying for all the aides now in nearly every classroom – will not solve the problem. The only solution is to make basic, structural changes and to have realistic expectations for each student.