Consider time for a minute. Think about the clichés related to it: “Time waits for no one”; “no time like the present”; “a stitch in time saves nine.” A few years ago we did an ad spot with the Chambers Brothers’ song “Time Has Come Today.” I chose it because I like the ticking clock at the end – a musical way to convey the thought: we are running out of time.
Time has been on my mind as we go through our new ASVAB Prep Program here at Mile High Ed. This is an initiative we started in January. Our instructors meet with young men and women who want to join the armed forces but have failed the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) – the military entrance exam.
The results have been promising. Out of our first group of seven candidates, five saw significant gains in their scores. The average increase was 203% and the average number of hours we taught them was 17.42. A few are still short of the minimum score of 32 (out of 99), but they are at least within striking distance.
This was a pretty diverse bunch too – three Hispanic, two Black, and two White students. Four were native-born and three were immigrants (Ghana, Russia, and Mexico). The military is especially popular with immigrants since they earn their citizenship after their first enlistment.
For the immigrants, the deficiencies in literacy and numeracy can be partly traced to the fact that English is not their native language. But what of our homegrown kids? All were high school graduates or GED holders. None were discipline cases. All were motivated enough to contact a recruiter and take the ASVAB. Yet most are functionally illiterate and can’t do basic multiplication. A few didn’t know that there are twelve inches in a foot. One guy didn’t know how to pronounce the word “café”. He thought it rhymed with “safe”.
Hence my thoughts on time. And how much of it is wasted in public education. This occurred to me as I was driving to one of our classes and passed by Aurora Central High School. It was 1:30 in the afternoon and I saw students leaving the building and walking home. At 1:30? After, what, a grueling five-hour day? The following week I passed by the school again during spring break, which now includes the Friday before and the Monday after. The Friday before was taken up by “teacher training.” The teachers also apparently needed the Monday after spring break off so they could get organized for the four-day week that followed.
I counted the number of days Aurora Public Schools takes off, including “teacher training” days. I think any day a teacher is not in the classroom is a day off. They should do professional development on their own time like everyone else. The total number of weekdays they have off in the 2018-19 school year is 90. Add weekends to that and this comes to four months. Four months! Can any job that takes one-third of the year off really be considering full-time?
Yet Denver teachers went on strike a few months ago. They want to be paid more. Well, who doesn’t? But what exactly should taxpayers pay more for – additional “training days”? Maybe they should use a few of those days to teach multiplication. Or reading comprehension.
What if we do away with the entire school schedule? Think about it. Next time you’re in a classroom, note how much time the teacher spends getting the students to sit down, settle down, and take attendance. After that usually comes, “get out your textbooks and turn to page 47…” or “work quietly in groups on your homework assignment…” Think about passing periods between the classes, or the whole concept of homeroom. Much of the day is chewed up in useless administrative maneuvers. And that is before the kids are released at 1:30 or 2:30 to go home or spend time on extracurricular activities. I have no problem with students taking part in extracurricular activities – provided they already know how to read and write.
Now imagine a block system. Students choose one course they want to study for the entire month – chemistry, for example. The first two weeks are spent in class learning the fundamentals; all day for ten days they learn nothing but the Periodic Table, basic chemical reactions, and physical properties of elements. The third week they go to the field – maybe to a working laboratory or an energy company where they can observe a petroleum engineer in action. The last week can be dedicated to review and testing to make sure they have mastered the material.
Parents could even choose which months they want to take off. Maybe the kids go to school in the summer because Mom and Dad can’t get time off from work until October. Maybe the whole family just prefers to take their vacations in November, December, and January instead of June, July, and August.
Flexibility. Better time management. Freedom of choice. These are all good things. Plus, as we saw this week here in Colorado, the more time kids spend in the field the less chance they have of being shot.