On Tuesday, American Enterprise Institute Director of Education Policy Rick Hess discussed extending the school year during his appearance on Fox News. Hess, who wrote a policy study for the Show-Me Institute on another topic in 2007, noted that an extended school year could be quite beneficial for some kids, but not others. Yet in Hess’ estimation, implementing this type of policy at the federal or even the state level would be a “horrendous mistake.” Instead of mandating an extended school year from on high, Hess suggests allowing families to choose.
The National Center on Time and Learning reports that more than 170 schools around the country have extended their school year to more than 190 days, including at least two schools in Missouri. Both schools in Missouri and the majority of schools across the country that are opting for longer days or longer years are charter schools. For example, the renowned national charter network Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) lists “more time” as one of their strategies for delivering a high-quality education to their students. Students at KIPP Inspire Academy in Saint Louis attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every other Saturday. Additionally, students are required to attend summer school. Having visited several KIPP schools, I commend their efforts to improve education outcomes for disadvantaged students. Nonetheless, I do not believe their strategy should be mandated everywhere.
As Hess notes, many families are able to provide enriching activities for their children in the summer, like vacations and summer camps. For these families, summer school may stifle their learning. On the other hand, some students may benefit from the additional learning time. Too often, researchers and policymakers develop a “we know best” mentality. When they believe a program or solution will benefit individuals, they attempt to mandate that strategy for everyone. In reality, people are different and need different solutions.
When we mandate solutions, we stifle innovation. Rather than dictate how, when, and where students must attend school, we should give families the ability to choose the school that best meets their needs.