GRAVES: Lengthen school year, grow American dream

I am no fan of YouTube. This internet site that specializes in housing and making available to the world the bazillions of videos its fans upload to it is insufficiently discriminating in what it allows on its site and what it does not. The forme...

Joe Graves
Joe Graves

I am no fan of YouTube. This internet site that specializes in housing and making available to the world the bazillions of videos its fans upload to it is insufficiently discriminating in what it allows on its site and what it does not. The former is pretty much everything and the latter pretty much nothing. (I exaggerate for effect here, but not by much.)

As a result, it becomes for too many a sewer pipe aimed directly into their living rooms, their children's bedrooms and anywhere else a computer (or tablet or iPad or eReader or cell phone) connects with the World Wide Web. When people view some of the resulting cultural sewage that therefrom emanates, it is their own fault, of course. But it still doesn't say much for the purveyor of such nastiness, ego-obsessed fanfares, and unbelievably effective time-wasters.

Yet, as with most things, certain palliatives do accompany the illnesses. To me at least, irrefutable evidence of this came from a wonderful video on YouTube that was recommended to school administrators throughout the state by Education Secretary Melody Schopp.

This video presents in a clear, concise and engaging way the impact of socio-economic status on the academic achievement of elementary children. This impact is already well-known to any school administrator worth his or her salt but, still, the video manages to convey it in a way that takes ahold of you, that heightens your awareness of an already known reality, a bit like a hangman's noose clarifies and focuses the senses on the hard reality of the rope's itchy fibers.

What it demonstrates is this: Elementary students from economically poor vs. middle class backgrounds start out about six months apart, with the child from the wealthier family having the half-year academic advantage. Such an advantage is not insurmountable and, even if it were, a six-month gap would not be disastrous if it were held to that throughout the K-12 years. But, of course, it isn't. Interestingly, during the kindergarten year, both children learn at about the same rate, each gaining about nine months of academic achievement. Then summer hits.


Away from school, the middle class child still manages to grow academically through materials at home, summer camps and other academic challenges their family's resources make available. The child from the disadvantaged family, however, actually suffers regression during the summer months, starting school the next August at a lower point than he/she left in May. Now the six-month differential expands to nine months or even more. Duplicate this phenomenon every summer for even just a few years in elementary school and the disadvantaged child becomes irretrievably, hopelessly far behind.

This inexorable grinding away at the educational attainment of the child from the impoverished background becomes quickly tantamount to the erasure, the denial of the American dream and education's role in lifting up anyone from rags to full economic and political participation in our society. It is the acceptance of a permanent underclass in America, something we simply cannot economically, culturally or politically afford to accept.

So what is the solution? Though you are probably tired of hearing about it from me (though oddly I never tire of talking about it), the answer is an extended school year, preferably for all students but at least for students who meet certain criteria, whether that includes socio-economic qualifiers or just relies on academic ones.

This simple though not necessarily inexpensive change -- perhaps paid for through the shifting of dollars from educational programming aimed to ameliorating the effects of socio-economic status on achievement but, according to the best research, having no success at doing so -- could in a single blow do more to reinforce or even restore the American dream than any anti-poverty or progressive program of the last 60 years.

As a side-benefit, it might even have the small, positive side-effect of shutting me up on the topic of the extended school year ... maybe ... possibly ... then again, no promises.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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