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The Case for Saturday School

  • Date Submitted: 11/03/2010 08:34 PM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 43.1 
  • Words: 2004
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He who labors diligently need never despair, for all things are accomplished by diligence and labor.
—Menander

How many days a year did the future Alexander the Great study with Aristotle? Did Socrates teach Plato on Saturdays as well as weekdays? During summer’s heat and winter’s chill?

Though such details remain shrouded in mystery, historians have unearthed some information about education in ancient times. Spartans famously put their children through a rigorous public education system, although the focus was on military training rather than reading and writing. Students in Mesopotamia attended school from sunrise to sunset.

In the face of budget shortfalls, school districts in many parts of the United States are moving toward four-day weeks. This is despite evidence that longer school weeks and years can improve academic performance. Schoolchildren in China attend school forty-one days a year more than most young Americans—and receive 30 percent more hours of instruction. Schools in Singapore operate forty weeks a year. Saturday classes are the norm in Korea and other Asian countries—and Japanese authorities are having second thoughts about their 1998 decision to cease Saturday-morning instruction. This additional time spent learning is one big reason that youngsters from many Asian nations routinely outscore their American counterparts on international tests of science and math.

Some U.S. schools have figured this out. Those that boast extraordinary success with poor and minority youngsters typically surround them, like Mesopotamians, with learning from dawn to dusk. The celebrated Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), a network of more than eighty charter schools around the country, subjects its middle-schoolers to 60 percent more instructional time than the typical public school—including eight- to ten-hour days, Saturday morning classes, and abbreviated summer breaks.

LOST HOURS AND DAYS ADD UP

“Summer learning loss” is no joke. When...

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