We_Can_Do_It!My new piece on the Daily Beast makes two arguments:

  • the current national school schedule forces women out of the work stream,
  • and women can use the clout we’ve amassed to date to change things now.

Though the mismatch of school and work schedules is obvious, it’s not much mentioned, if at all, in discussions of how to change the dynamics of women’s work to allow more women to  stay at work full time and gain the benefits of that “reliability” (like an end to the gender pay gap and a greater chance to move up into the C-suite where they could evolve policy further to meet the needs of 21st century families).

Instead of focusing on making parent’s work schedules “flexible” in order to accommodate school, let’s reverse the picture and make school more consistent, to accommodate work.  This proposal also has the major benefit of providing early childhood education to the huge proportion of our children currently in bad care or at home with parents who cannot provide them with the resources they need to enter Kindergarten ready to learn.

Of course the proposal will raise hackles.  Kids are in school too much already, not too little, some will insist.  They need more efficient teaching, not more time…. Any school schedule change is a tinder box — here, as in France.  Since thinking about one change reminds us of our huge set of inadequacies in the education realm, it’s generally easier to let the status quo stand.

But if you actually want to solve problems, you have to address them.  Expanded school days could be organized to provide a range of activities, not just standard class time (including homework, sports, arts, play, and tutoring time).  

These all would involve expanded costs, and there are a range of means of paying for them — which would need debate. For starters: The additional taxes (payroll, sales and property taxes) brought in from the increased wages earned by the women who return to or never leave work once this schedule starts, could cover much if not all of the additional costs. Any remainder could be made up through sliding scale payments and expanded education investments by the state, the municipality and the feds. What will no doubt soon become our chastened and responsible Congress can hammer out the details.

Of course startup funds would be required to build a nation’s worth of good childcare facilities, to upgrade extant school buildings for summer operations and to train a few hundred thousand skilled childcare and preschool teachers. But these jobs would create their own economic stimulus, putting money into the pockets of construction workers and teachers, who would spend it in their communities. The long-term positive economic effects of improved education for the nation’s children and of their mothers’ new freedom to build solid careers would be enormous.

The investment in children’s education would result in across the board benefits: to the economy, to the nation’s ability to innovate to meet emerging challenges (of which there are so many), and to the quality of citizen’s lives.

The way to get this done?  Women have to step up, and use the power they’ve accrued over the past few decades of struggle in the workplace.  

Enough with the debates over whether or not we need to “lean in” to overcome internal obstacles that hold women back at work.  Enough with complaints that change will only come when a woman is elected president.  Time to focus on putting our existent muscle to work to lean on business and government to evaporate the many external obstacles to women’s and children’s success within our work and education realms as currently structured.  We can do it. 

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