Education secretary calls for 12-hour school days, longer school year

Paul Conner Executive Editor
Font Size:

If Education Secretary Arne Duncan has his way, kids would be spending a lot more time at school — and a three-month summer would be a thing of the past.

Duncan joked with attendees at a luncheon at the National Press Club Tuesday in Washington that he would like schools to stay open 13 months out of the year. Then he told the audience of over 100 that he seriously supports longer school hours.

“In all seriousness, I think schools should be open 12, 13, 14 hours a day, seven days a week, 11-12 months of the year,” Duncan said. “This is not just more of the same. There would be a whole variety of after-school programs. Obviously academics would be at the heart of that. But you top it off with dancing, art, drama, music, yearbook, robotics, activities for older siblings and parents, ESL classes.”

He continued by explaining that the American school calendar is antiquated and must be modified so that American students can compete at the highest levels internationally.

“Most people realize that our current day is based on the agrarian economy, and we don’t have too many kids working out in the fields nowadays,” Duncan said. “Schools in countries that are beating us are going to school 25-30 days more than us. If you practice basketball five times a week, you’re gonna be better than the people who practice three times a week.”

Duncan, former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, also announced that 19 states are finalists for an estimated $3.4 billion of federal funding through President Obama’s Race to the Top education initiative.

Finalists for $3 billion in federal funding

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina

Race to the Top is part of the Obama administration’s effort to offer incentives to higher performing schools.

“As you guys know, our world has changed, our economy has changed,” said Duncan. “The days of telling kids to go home at 2:30 and having mom there with a peanut butter sandwich, those days are gone. Whether it’s a single parent working one, two, three jobs or two parents working, the hours from 3 o’clock to 7 o’clock are a huge anxiety, and that’s why we have to keep our schools open longer.”

But Duncan explained that although he intends to use the leverage of the federal government to drive reform, he intends to give officials and teachers at the local level the flexibility to improve while also holding them accountable.

“Our blueprint envisions a more humble, realistic federal role in education reform,” Duncan said. “We are a long way in our nation’s capital from our nation’s classrooms. One-sized-fits-all remedies from the federal government don’t work. In fact, one-sized-fits-all remedies tend to stifle creativity at the local level.”

Race to the Top proposes raising academic standards, attracting and keeping the best teachers, improving statewide data systems and promoting collaboration between business leaders and educators.

“Nothing moves people as quickly as the opportunity for more funding, especially at a time like today,” Duncan said.
The 19 states chosen Tuesday will travel to Washington during the second week of August for a peer review session that will assess their educational plans. Delaware and Tennessee have already received $600 million to implement their own school reform plans as a part of Race to the Top.

Duncan highlighted what he describes as a “quiet revolution” that he feels will reform the current education system.

“This quiet revolution is driven by motivated parents who want better educational options for their children,” said Duncan. “They know how important education is to succeed and compete in the global economy, they insist on the very best, and they are willing to sacrifice to make it happen.”

Duncan also envisions a system in which schools’ structural resources such as libraries, gymnasiums and pools are shared among and are more accessible to the community.

“They don’t belong to you, me or the principal. They belong to the community,” Duncan said. “We need to keep schools open longer to where schools become the center of the neighborhood and part of family life. And when the family is learning together, students do very, very well.”

U.S. trade gap grows: