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anne_mikolay_120In his appearance on NBC's “Today” show on Monday, September 27th, President Obama announced his desire to extend the school year by a month. In an unscientific poll conducted by The New York Daily News, 41% of respondents support his plan.

Come on, Obama, gimme a break!

“That month makes a difference,” President Obama claimed as he cited China, India, and other fast-growing countries “leaving United States students in the dust.” America's kids rank 21st and 25th in science and math, respectively. President Obama's “Race to the Top” program aimed at educational reform addresses charter takeovers of low-performing schools, promotes better pay and benefits for teachers, and launches a two-year effort to recruit 10,000 science and math teachers. All of this is great stuff, but extending the school year by a full month? Forget about it!

There are very few people who would not agree that America's educational system needs an overhaul, and that changes are welcome. But the most needed change with far-reaching implications is not in charter schools, better teacher compensation, or additional technical teachers; the most vital change must be in parental attitude. Schools are not child care centers. Teachers are not babysitters. Parents, not teachers, have the responsibility to instill a healthy attitude in their children toward education, and thus supply children with a firm foundation upon which to stand and meet future educational challenges.

Lofty words? Perhaps. Hard to do? Of course! Impossible? No! How is a positive attitude toward education achieved? Parents need to take an interest in their children's school work. Inquire. Learn along with them. Appreciate their accomplishments. Encourage them to do their homework. Create a dedicated space within the home in which they can study. Respond to and support the teachers. Encourage children to respect the teacher. Do not expect your child's teacher to babysit your kid, or to teach your child manners, or respect, or kindness, or a work ethic, or anything else that is a parent's responsibility. Parents can work toward educational reform from within the home.

That being said, extending the school year? Nope. Don't buy it. Kids get “summer fever” the moment the sun starts to shine in June. Tell them they have to stay in school for one more month and they will completely zone out. They need a mental health break! And so do the teachers! I've been in front of the classroom and, believe me, no matter how charming or wonderful a teacher thinks her class is, she still needs a mental health break of her own! Extending the school year will turn the schools into day care centers for parents who don't want their kids at home. Nobody will learn anything more in July than they did all year. Extending the school year, President Obama, may be a promising theory, but come on!  Kids are kids! You can't force China or India's culture on American kids and parents who believe summer months are for a child's rest and relaxation. Leave the kids alone and focus your “Race to the Top” program on digging out the bad apples among the teachers, those who are behind the times, hanging on until retirement. There's a lot you can do, President Obama, without throwing a further burden upon America's children.

Just let kids be kids. They'll grow up soon enough.