I have been watching with interest as a couple of Minnesota school districts have discussed shortening their school week to four days. The heart of the issue is budgetary constraints. The expected savings would be derived from reduced salaries, less heating/cooling of buildings , and reduced transportation needs. Unfortunately, the economic gain would rob these kids of opportunities.
The book, Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, is about successful people. The main point is that while many people need skill sets to be successful, when one looks deep into any success story, the person always benefits from some opportunity. For every success, be it Wayne Gretzky, Bill Gates or J.D. Rockefeller, a unique opportunity existed that opened the door to their genius. If there was a change in their date of birth, where they lived, or other intangibles, it is very likely they would have never been heard of. Gladwell’s chapters concerning the opportunities provided in educational systems are especially telling.
He discusses the difference between educational gains made by children during summer vacation analyzed though their economic background. The kids that are given opportunities to go to camp or have the ability to travel continue to learn at a greater rate than the children who do not have these opportunities. The key being that they kept their brains actively learning when they were out of school. Economic status plays a role because of the cost associated with the summer opportunities.
Gladwell also discusses the comparison between the American educational system and that of Asia. He makes a correlation between the time spent in the classroom and the background work ethic of the student. The analysis suggests the students that work harder and spend more time learning test higher. He takes the comparison a step future by showing that the higher the IQ, the greater the discrepancy in test scores. Basically, the smarter the child the greater benefit they get from the extra learning.
A close read of the book may suggest where we should be looking is more and longer school days. Accepting that the economic reality precludes that option should not mean that we look in the other direction. If school weeks were shortened it would be important to consider what these students would do with their extra days. If given alternative opportunities to learn and keep their brain active, there could be a benefit to this plan. However, developing new programs will cost money that may be better spent on maintaining a five day school week. There is enough proof that these students are already going to come out of school facing innumerable budget consequences in every area of our society. It doesn’t seem prudent to consider stripping away the opportunity and learning tools provided through a full and proper education.
It’s time to stop looking at the educational system as just another line item. It is an investment in the future of society. We cannot abandon our responsibility to educate; it is not enough to merely hope that the less educated group will succeed. Undoubtedly, some kids will be resilient enough to make it through that maze. Those kids will benefit from the opportunities they get individually. However, a shortened school week will reduce the odds of most of them reaching their true potential.
Education has to be a priority where there is an understanding of what works and what doesn’t, not only for the benefits to society but for the good of each individual.
It is imperative that every school board member, and perhaps every politician, spend some time reading about why opportunities make a difference. If any of them agree to take the time to read Outliers, I offer them the opportunity to give me a call and I will get them a copy of the book. This is an issue that is far too important to all of us.
Michael A. Bryant is managing partner of Bradshaw & Bryant, a personal injury and criminal law firm in St. Cloud, Minnesota. He is also a frequent blogger at www.injuryboard.com. Most importantly, he is the father of a third grader and fourth grader, who he hopes will have the opportunity to live as adults in an even better Minnesota.