It's clear to me, and to many other people I know, that the single biggest causal difference for America's K-12 educational gap vis-a-vis other developed nations is the 180-day school year. I've had, as a newspaper reporter and editor, more than one school district superintendent agree with that.
All other developed nations have school years of at least 200 days. Now, it's true that students don't "forget" over two weeks of Christmas holidays; hence, here in Texas and elsewhere, a rush to start the school year early, to get the first semester done before Christmas, has faded.
But, they DO forget over two and a half months of summer. That's clear indeed.
Beyond that, there's just the element of total school time. By the end of 10th grade, the average Western European, Japanese or South Korean student has attended at least one full American year of school above and beyond her or his American peers. If you look at the gap on standardized test scores, it starts small and gets bigger from year to year. Cumulative effects of additional schooling offer a quite persuasive explanation of this.
But how to get American schools there, when they're so traditionalist in many ways still, especially on something like this, and unfortunately, so state-by-state based?
Well, I think President Obama should have used, along with his stimulus package, the fiscal policy, of financial carrots for states, for moving states, over, say, a 4-5 year period, to a 200-day school year, or longer. Teacher and aide hiring to go with this would have been very stimulative.
Let's say an even 200 days, over six years. Add four days for each of two straight years, take a break, then do it again for three straight years. That "break year" would give states and textbook writers time to fully revamp for a longer school year with curricula, number of courses offered with the extra days of a longer year and more.
On the stimulus side, a longer year would mean more need for substitutes, and to help teachers out more thoroughly, a call for more teachers' aides.
Beyond that, it would put the educational focus where Obama should be putting it: K-12, not trying to get more people to go to college when many careers don't need a four-year degree, and also, not trying to get more people to go to college without more cost containment.