Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, says that “the world could be so much richer than the world we have settled for” (268).
Public education works:
In this section Gladwell is talking about several important issues, among them the fact that public education in the United States WORKS (255-260).
The public education system is actually quite effective. In our education system, Johnny and Jill can learn to read, if they are in school.
Based on fairly rigorous research by Karl Alexander, Gladwell says the real problem is our summer vacations. Over summer vacation wealthy students learn a lot. Students in poverty learn almost nothing. Over five years of summer vacation, they don’t even learn enough to raise their reading level a percent. Rich students raise their by 52% over the same amount of time.
I do not believe the answer is to reapportion wealth. But if we are seriously interested in equal opportunity in the United States, then we need to have summer school, at least for the lower SES students–not as a punishment but as a way of enabling them to keep up with the wealthier children.
Of course, that is K-12 and I am not in K-12 education anymore. I will say, however, that I saw that my children retained more of what they had learned if they were in school year round. So while my children were in elementary, middle, and high school, we had year round classes.
Higher education implications:
Now, as my sons are in higher education full-time and I am in the TT in higher education, I wonder whether the difference in learning still matters.
I think it does. It certainly matters to my students from lower socioeconomic circumstances. They have more to catch up with and not being immersed means they aren’t catching up.
Based on Alexander’s research, it seems likely that not only do those students not continue to make progress but that they might actually fall behind more during their vacations–especially as summer vacations for college are even longer.
Once students are doing internships in their majors, they probably don’t need summer school sessions. But until they are, many of them would probably benefit from year round school.
It’s something to think about and something that I might want to talk with my students about–individually.