Sunday, March 26, 2006

Class times

by Claire Miller, DI editorial writer

The Iowa House passed what appeared to be a pretty mundane education bill on March 21. It would change the academic calendars of Iowa schools, requiring that the length of a school year be determined by the number of hours spent in class instead of the total number of class days. This means such things as recess, pep rallies, and staff-development meetings wouldn't technically count as part of the school year.

Not a big deal, really. It might mean not as much recess, I guess, but that's about it. But something about the law, which doesn't even affect me, bothered me a lot. I think it is because the proposal seems to be a part of a larger trend in how U.S. politicians are coming to view education as something that can be regimented, standardized, and measured. This attitude does nothing to help foster such traits as intellectual curiosity and ingenuity, education's most important function, in students.

If you haven't noticed, though, it's becoming a pretty standard philosophy among our leaders. We've all heard of the No Child Left Behind Act and its controversial way of measuring accomplishment based on test performance. This way of thinking even permeates education at the college level. Earlier this semester, the DI editorial board criticized a proposed law in Congress that would evaluate universities through standardized testing. What an awful idea! The most valuable skills students get out of their classes - analytical ability, creative thinking, a simple interest in learning - are not things that can be condensed into a multiple-choice test.

That's why I don't like this possible Iowa law, either. I don't like the idea that the number of hours spent in a desk in front of a teacher can be an adequate measure of education. My schooling certainly wasn't impaired because of long recesses and late-start Wednesdays - I'd argue that such breaks actually made the school day more appealing and productive. Before they can learn to read and solve math problems, children have to have a desire to learn in the first place. Simply increasing regulation does nothing to address this necessity. In the larger scheme of things, it hardly matters that the Iowa Legislature wants to change the state's academic calendar. But hopefully, our elected officials will come to realize that more rules do not mean better-educated students.

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