Never Too Late for School

Dear Educators: Judy Schaubach, President, Education Minnesota; Dennis Halvorses, President Minnesota School Boards Association; Chris Hazelton, President Minnesota Association of Charter Schools; James B. Field, President, Minnesota Independed School Forum

School is out, but it shouldn’t be. American students need to spend more time in the classroom. Let me explain by referring to events that are happening in the world that is not currently on summer vacation.

Exciting research in particle physics has led scientists to what they believe is the Higgs particle (which may give other particles, such as electrons, their mass). However, that research is not happening in the United States. Instead, it is going on 300 feet below Meyrin, Switzerland, using the largest experimental device ever built. Perhaps if Higgs was the name of a Heisman Trophy winner, more Americans would know about it.

Asia’s share of global high-tech exports now exceed 25 percent, and the U.S. share of these exports has declined to 13 percent, according to the United States National Science Foundation. Today, 78 percent of science and engineering doctorates are earned outside the United States, and nearly one-third of those degrees awarded in the United States go to non-Americans.

Students in South Korea, Canada, and France outperform America’s students in basic subjects. In the last four years of American schooling, students study core subjects for less than half the time students in France, Japan, and China do.

Education is rife with various tests and measurement devices. In fact, it has sometimes been said that education practices improvement by acronym. Signed into law in February 2006, the Deficit Reduction Act includes the establishment of the Academic Competitiveness Council (ACC), which coordinates the more than 200 math and science programs that are administered through 13 different agencies. In an effort to leave no acronym behind, the ACC has promulgated several recommendations. This is the first one in its entirety:

“The ACC program inventory and goals and metrics should be living resources, updated regularly, and used to facilitate stronger interagency coordination.”

If this unintelligible educationspeak is the best we can come up with, clearly our education system has failed. Let me suggest a simpler approach: increasing the number of school days.

According to a report by the Education Commission of the States, which was updated in 2004, the majority of states have a minimum of 180 instructional days. However, at least 11 states do not require the 180-day minimum. Minnesota is the only state without a minimum number of days or hours of instruction required; as a result, students in some public school districts and private schools have fewer than 180 days of classroom instruction. According to a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization study of 43 countries, 33 have school years longer than 180 days. In fact, some countries require as many as 220 days of instruction.

As any parent can attest, even the days when our children are in school in Minnesota, many are not truly instructional days, but instead cultural-awareness days, career days, or teacher-conference days.

So why not increase the school year by 10 days next year and one day thereafter for each year, until we hit a minimum of 185 days of real classroom instruction time? (We already have the buildings, the instructors, and the pupils needed for this approach.) This is no longer an agrarian economy, and summer resorts can find their seasonal work force elsewhere.

So you see, school should still be going on now. You’re all doing a great job; I just want you to do more of it. 




Vance K. Opperman


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