Seize the (Kids') Time!


From Barack Obama's speech yesterday on education:

We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed for when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of each day. That calendar may have once made sense, but today it puts us at a competitive disadvantage. Our children -- listen to this -- our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea -- every year. That's no way to prepare them for a 21st century economy (*). That's why I'm calling for us not only to expand effective after-school programs, but to rethink the school day to incorporate more time -- whether during the summer or through expanded-day programs for children who need it.

This idea has been gaining traction already in districts around the country, despite high costs, parental opposition, and mixed results. The trend is largely a reaction to the tests required by No Child Left Behind, which have crowded out so many scholastic pastimes that many academies now want extra hours in order to restore the old activities -- or, barring that, to drill still more for the tests. Forgive me for suspecting those institutions' problems might run a little deeper than a shortage of time.

I have more sympathy for the families who prefer to keep their kids out of school altogether. You might expect the recession to diminish their numbers, but many homeschoolers expect the opposite effect:

Before the recession, the ranks of homeschool students had been growing by an estimated 8 percent annually; the latest federal figures, from 2007, calculate the total at about 1.5 million.

While some families are giving up because of a stay-at-home parent's need to get a job, the recession overall will likely be a further boost to homeschooling, according to parents and educators interviewed by The Associated Press….Christopher Klicka of Warrenton, Va., senior counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association and co-teacher along with his wife of seven homeschooled children, says hard times enhance homeschooling's appeal as private school tuition becomes unaffordable and some public schools contemplate cutbacks.

"People are looking to homeschooling as an alternative more now in light of economic circumstances," he said, citing its low cost and potential for strengthening family bonds.

At Allendale Academy in Clearwater, Fla., which provides resources for homeschoolers, enrollment has risen 50 percent over the past two years to about 900 students as families desert private schools, says academy director Patricia Carter.

(* Cliché query: Does anyone actually find it compelling to hear the phrase "21st century" appended to any word the speaker wants to stress, as though there were some sort of sea change on December 31, 2000?)

[Hat tip: Bill Kauffman.]