(January 14, 1999)

The afternoon Governor Davis gave his inaugural address challenging California students “to raise their sights and lift their performance,” I was in the homework trenches with my three California students — third grade, sixth grade, eighth grade. And it wasn’t a happy scene.

I am a product of California public schools during the so-called Golden era of the 1960’s. Yet when I was in junior high, I had time to read novels, listen to the radio, talk on the phone, even watch TV, as well as complete my homework on my way to college at Stanford. My daughters have no such free time. The handbook from their middle school states that the average time spent each day on homework in seventh and eighth grade should be one to two hours — total. But since my eldest began seventh grade, she can count on a minimum of an hour of math plus an hour of Spanish homework every day. Those two hours, as well as the daily work required for English, science, and social studies do not add up to only one to two hours of homework, no matter what kind of math you use. I hear it gets worse in high school.

Even more alarming is how much these students are expected to learn on their own. My husband and I spend hours each evening tutoring our daughters. My friends do the same. Yet what about the students whose parents or guardians aren’t able or willing to help them? I worry about the education they are missing out on.

Governor Davis, if you and the state legislature are serious about restoring California’s schools to greatness, you should lengthen the school day and add a few weeks to the school year. Kids need more time to learn in school so that their outside time can be freer — for sports, theater, music, being a kid. Maybe even reflecting on what they learned that day. And while I know there would be objections to this idea from state teachers unions, I beg of individual teachers to consider the alternative, of having their students sink further behind the rest of the country.

I cheered when I heard about the governor’s intention to weed out bad teachers. It is long overdue. Inferior teachers should not be allowed to continue in the classroom and expect parents to do the teaching for them.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.