Wasting Time: The Hidden Public School Crisis

Even students who aren’t discipline problems and who are not involved in sports, music, or other activities may have the opportunity to attend only between 54% and 64% of their classes where something other than learning how to take mandated tests is being presented.

Demands on class time come from within schools and from the community. All manner of groups covet large, captive audiences of students: abstinence organizations, sex-ed organizations, anti-drug organizations, Christian strong men, political groups. Internal pressures can be even harder to resist: clubs that want to put on fundraisers like powder-puff football games, theater departments that want to put on plays, choir and band performances, and many more. When one internal or external group is allowed to take class time, how can others be denied?

Some have suggested lengthening the school year, but would that actually result in more learning opportunities? With the best intentions, most schools are wiping away as much as 56% or more of the opportunity to learn anything meaningful, even more in some cases.

Some kids will do well no matter how much class time they miss, but even they will miss an enormous amount of information and growth. There simply won’t be time to present it to them. They’ll read less, write less, and develop more slowly, and these are the kids in honors classes.

What about those kids that aren’t as focused, that aren’t as smart? What they learn in high school may be the sum of their formal education, and 54% and more of that opportunity is being wiped away in the name of “accountability” and for a multitude of other activities and programs.

In many ways, our schools are very much like our federal government. They’ve taken on far too many tasks and diversions unrelated to their actual mission: providing the best opportunity for learning that their resources and abilities can manage. The more they take on, the more constituencies are created demanding that those activities continue and expand. The more testing they do, the more testing must be done to produce even more data to prove the validity of the testing. More money spent on these distractions means more political power is created, and then more money is spent.

The testing craze is not only materially contributing to the bankrupting of our states and schools, it’s killing 20% -- in many places, much more -- of each school year. While it’s true that local schools can’t ignore state and federal testing mandates, they do have substantial control over other matters. Ensuring that students spend the maximum amount of time in their classes is a logical, necessary first step in any “reform” scheme. Parents in each and every school district in the nation do have the power to deal with this, if they are aware and interested.