Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been a severe (and often correct) critic of American public education. Now he says the problem is that there’s too little of it. He explained his views yesterday to an unimpressed high-school audience in Denver:
“You’re competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; eleven, twelve months a year,” Duncan said.
Well, let’s see. Six days a week and 11 months a year would lengthen the school year by about one-third (he also wants to extend the school day, but we’ll leave that aside for now). Total U.S. government expenditures for K-12 education are about $500 billion a year, so if they are increased by the same fraction, Duncan’s program would cost, in round numbers, an extra $150 billion per year – $500 for every man, woman, and child in the country. That used to sound like a huge amount of money, but since Obama’s election, the Democrats have been spending so wildly that we’ve lost all sensitivity to these things. (Hey, wait a minute — you don’t think that was their plan all along, do you?)
Schemes like Duncan’s have been proposed before, ever since most Americans stopped living on farms and needing to take summers off. The reason they never get adopted is more than just the expense; it’s that teens and pre-teens are a little too young to be thrust into an even harsher daily grind than what their parents endure. Educational reformers always assume that when the necessary changes are made, learning will be so wonderful and so much fun that kids will be eager to absorb it in unlimited amounts. Back here in the real world, public schools (and many private ones) will continue to be bastions of dreary mediocrity, and forcing students to endure them 240 days a year instead of 180 will be the surest way to turn off the maximum number of them to the joys of learning.