Like most children across the country, mine are anxiously anticipating Winter Break, which will begin sometime around 3-ish on Friday. They will throw open the doors of the minivan, run into my house, toss their backpacks in the hall and jump onto the sofa. Somewhere in there, they'll also grab a soda (mom won't notice) and a game remote and settle in for a long winter's "break." Lovely.

To me, it seems like just yesterday it was Thanksgiving Furlough Week (yes, my kids got an entire week off for Thanksgiving), or September Furlough Week (yes, my kids got an extra week of summer vacation in September, too). You'd think my kids attended some fancy school. They don't. They attend California public school.

For our school district, the solution to budget cuts was to diminish the number of days in the school year. That means that as of Dec. 17, our children received exactly 60 days of academic instruction. That's not counting the week-long minimum days for parent teacher conferences, teacher in-service minimum days and the every-other-Tuesday minimum days at the middle school.

What does this mean for our kids? Simply put: less. Less in-class instruction time. Less time spent working on collaborative tasks. Less time doing "fun" creative projects that augment the usual rote lessons. Conversely, it also means "more." As in more instruction time devoted to "the test." Because in California, those end-of-the-year test scores are the gold standard of education measurement. In other words, if the students earn high scores, the inference is that they are receiving a fabulous education. I wonder.

To be perfectly frank, I see gaps that are widening by the day. I see programs in which it is up to the parents to provide the stimulation that often keeps a student engaged. Art, science, music, athletics are all relegated to after-school programs-if the parent has the time and the financial ability to provide them.

After reviewing many of the Our School Needs entries, I saw one common theme: need. Whether for books or supplies, teachers or time, students everywhere are experiencing significant levels of need. Some of these needs can be resolved with financial assistance. Others with talent.

Which got me thinking: Has the time come to reevaluate the entire education process? Does this "traditional" education model work in our changing world? How do we make traditional classrooms fit with our virtual world? Or is the "break" we need a complete change of how our children experience education?

What do you think?

 -Lori Wildrick