During a recent conversation with some legislators about school reform and the advantages of year-round education, my thinking went almost immediately to traditional Asian rice farming, athletics and the process of teaching intelligence. All are connected.
Intelligence is the product of innate capacity and lots of high-quality, hard work.
Researchers have long triangulated on the educability of intelligence and will be happy to tell you about it in great detail if you can wake them up at the party. Essentially, the harder you work, the smarter you get. Most successful people have chosen to outwork those who are not successful.
In athletics, we have no trouble accepting the concept that the hardest workers with the best coaching are the predominant and perennial winners. This also carries over into careful dieting and specialized conditioning matched specifically to individual athletes and their sports. The most successful athletes are those who choose to outwork others.
So what does this have to do with year-round learning? As it turns out, everything.
Academic achievement is a function of quality time on task and most students don't get enough of it. The highest performing students in our schools are those whose quality learning time is extended beyond their peers' by parents and/or others who control their environments, behavior and life choices. Each year, this group jumps farther ahead of those in their age/grade cohort because their learning and achievement levels are not restricted to the 180-day school year cycle, but are driven by and through their home environments on a nonstop basis.
This is similar to athletes whose parents provide training and opportunities for skill development that extends well beyond recreation or school-provided coaching. This often leads us to refer to these youngsters, at some point, as champions.
What is ironic to me is that lesser achieving peers and many adults fail to notice the weeks, months and years of committed and often lonely preparation that produced the visible tip-of-the-iceberg winning performance. They missed the locker room banner about losers having excuses and winners having programs.
The above-mentioned researchers can also dig up piles of data showing that growth in student achievement during the actual school year is fairly consistent among socio-economic, racial and ethnic groups. The intergroup divergence, though, begins early and grows with age as the top echelon of students and athletes climb the achievement curve on a nonstop basis compared to their less aggressive peers. The latter choose to pursue achievement on a part-time and less serious basis.
There is also a very real regression effect brought on by long periods of off-task time, as in summer recesses. This is why Federal law requires an extended school year for some students with disabilities. At least the first month of the school year for many students is spent in relearning and reconnecting to the prior year's instructional stream. This is a little like paying for the same real estate twice.
So where does the rice farmer come in to this and what does he have to do with education?
Traditional Asian rice farming requires arduous, careful and very skilled work on the part of the farmer in order to achieve a high yield.
This work is carried out meticulously from dawn to dusk on virtually every day of the year.
Unlike traditional European farming that gave us our current school calendar, there is no down time between planting and harvesting. The work never stops.
Asian cultural values and expectations carried over into the American system of education usually result in families having not only higher expectations for their students, but parental enforcement of longer periods of high quality effort and achievement, both during and outside the typical school year. They also respect and revere education and educators.
Even beyond this, there is a clear expectation to take on "high yield" fields of study and career pathways, eg., science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as the arts. In addition to dominating the ranks of our highest achieving students, large numbers of university faculty and researchers in the STEM areas are made up of individuals of Asian descent. This is true, too, of other groups whose cultural and/or family values stress hard work and limited leisure from the earliest years. They are not innately more intelligent. They simply choose to do the work necessary to achieve success.
Socio-economic situations are also a marker for success. Parents who have worked well beyond the norm to achieve success usually expect the same from their offspring and usually provide the environment and means for achievement opportunities beyond what is offered in the abbreviated school calendar. They get it, too.
The movement toward year-round learning and curricular acceleration offers not only the opportunity to abandon the plodding learning limitations of the agrarian school calendar, but many of our equally outmoded notions of learning limitations that go with it.
In all endeavors, improving and succeeding are the results of consistently positive choices made by parents and individuals wherein every day presents the opportunity to get better.
So, what's your choice today?