Some of the content in this week’s article revisits some information I shared with you about 24 months ago. I have added a little more information, and I believe the content is even more relevant today.
The older I get, the more I appreciate the privilege of growing up and living in Michigan. Some of my earliest and fondest memories include time spent outdoors with my parents and seven siblings. Both of my parents were English teachers, and each foray into the woods was a learning experience. While fishing, hunting, hiking, or canoeing, my parents took advantage of every opportunity to enrich our education.
My parents shared their love of learning with their eight children, included exposure to the great storytellers, both current and past. I remember listening to Garrison Keillor and the Prairie Home Companion on public radio and Paul Harvey on radio station WKLA. Both were great orators; however, I especially enjoyed Paul Harvey and “The Rest of the Story.” Mr. Harvey had a voice that was captivating and pleasant. His stories usually began with a narration that would evoke some emotion and challenge my thought process. As he weaved his story, he would lead in one direction, and then, without missing a beat, he would deliver an entirely different perspective. He would end each broadcast with, “I’m Paul Harvey, and there you have the rest of the story.”
During the past 25 years, the American education system has encountered some interesting obstacles and challenges, some of which are systemic and others that are societal. I want to focus your attention on the talk, the truth, and a crucial conversation about our K-12 public schools.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” suggests how education in the United States is backward. He writes schools do “an outstanding job of educating students between September and June.”
But Gladwell writes that isn’t enough.
“The only problem with school, for the kids who aren’t achieving is that there isn’t enough of it,” he wrote.
Suddenly the causes of Asian math superiority become even more apparent. Students in Asian schools do not have long summer vacations. Why would they? Cultures that believe the route to success lies in rising before dawn 360 days a year is scarcely going to give their children three straight months off in the summer.
The school year in the United States, on average, is 180 days long. The South Korean school year is 220 days long. The Japanese school year is 243 days long. Asian students are not smarter than their American counterparts are; instead, they spend more time in school.
We live in an information and service society, yet unlike other countries, we educate our students based on an agricultural calendar. In addition to the time on task issues, several duties and responsibilities have shifted from parents and society to public schools.
The list of added responsibilities does not include the addition of multiple, specialized topics within each of the traditional subjects. It also does not have the explosion of standardized testing and test prep activities, or any of the onerous reporting requirements imposed by the federal government. All of these have occurred without adding a single minute, hour, or day to our school year.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has created a new challenge. Schools across our nation are doing something unprecedented in the history of education, which is to provide remote or home-based education to all students. Ionia Public Schools has offered virtual school programs to secondary school students for years. However, delivering home-based learning to every student is convoluted and compounded by the fact that 1/3 of our students do not have reliable internet access or technology at home.
Our schools are doing good job-preparing students to work in an industrialized society using an agricultural calendar. The problem is, we are no longer an industrialized society, and our children need to be competitive in a global economy. We can and must improve our education system to give our students the education they will need to be competitive in the worldwide economy. However, this cannot occur without expanding our school year. And now you have the rest of the story!
— Ron Wilson is superintendent of Ionia Public Schools. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of Ionia school elected officials, employees or students. You may contact Ron by email at email@example.com.