Work-life balance and our outdated school schedule
Last weekend, as I balanced spending time with my 5-year-old daughter and completing numerous work-related projects, I read Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, the cover article in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter that is generating lots of buzz. I felt like I was reliving my own life through her words.
Having worked in my early career to advance women in politics and for 10 years in the education policy world of Washington, D.C.--my last position serving as a U.S. Department of Education Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Clinton Administration -- I am a member of the generation of women who were determined to prove that women can have it all.
Because of that determination, I nearly missed out on life’s miracle of having a child. I left Washington in the nick of time and my daughter was born when I was in my mid 40’s. When I co-founded the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL), I was committed (as was my co-founder, a father of five children) to offering a family-friendly work setting, including flexible schedules and part-time options. Nearly one-fourth of our 30-plus staff members work from home one or more days during the week, and one-third work part-time in order to balance work and family. With email, iPhones, and Skype, our team does not have to be together to get things done. And, believe me, NCTL has high standards of performance for our staff—a necessary requirement when trying to lead a movement to overhaul such an entrenched institution as the school calendar of 180-6 ½-hour days.
Beyond my personal reaction to the article, then, I was particularly interested in the author’s call for aligning the school day with the work day as a part of a policy agenda to better address our country’s need for work-family balance. Why don’t schools operate on a nine-to-five schedule? Who benefits anymore from a schedule created to meet the needs of a 19th-century farm and factory economy? Just think about the broader learning opportunities that would be available to children if schools expanded their schedules to eight hours a day with a shorter summer break. Fewer children will be home alone watching TV or playing video games or, worse, getting into trouble.
Since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind law in 2002, many schools have cut music and art, foreign languages, and even social studies. Expanded-time schools are able to add those classes back into the school day. Instead of transporting children to ballet, soccer, tutoring and piano lessons at 3 pm, parents instead would have peace of mind knowing that their children can stay in school to gain those very same learning and enrichment experiences during the afternoon hours. Employers, parents and children would all benefit.
The good news is that the Obama Administration already supports modernizing the school schedule, and has invested significant funding to create more expanded-time schools. Like my organization, the Administration has focused its leadership and funding primarily on providing children in poverty stronger educational opportunities.
Now Anne-Marie Slaughter has opened up a new dialogue about the need to expand school time for working parents from every socioeconomic level. My hope is that a broader group of policymakers will take up the cause so that more children can enjoy a stronger, broader education, more parents can work the afternoon and summer hours knowing their children are safe in school, and, all the while, employers will have happier, more productive workers who are able to simultaneously make a good living and have a good life.