11/28/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

School's Out for...Never?

President Barack Obama just made an education proposal even he admitted will spur virulent protest among his closest supporters:

Sasha and Malia.

Tongue in cheek? Yes. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan's proposal to lengthen school days and shorten summer vacation won't lead to 8-year-olds protesting at town hall meetings any time soon.

But their proposal speaks to a fundamental issue our country must confront: whether or not our schools adequately prepare our children for the increasingly competitive global economy.

It might ultimately be the right decision to lengthen the school year. But just as the president has identified inefficiencies in our health care system, we also have inefficiencies in our education system.

Classrooms are leaking minutes every day because teachers are using precious time resolving conflicts from the playground. And the slow drip, drip, drip every day is adding up -- in some cases to the tune of 18 minutes or more per classroom daily.

So before we tack additional hours onto the school day, what if we could find a way to recapture those lost minutes?

In fact, there's a way to recapture an entire week for each classroom every year that already exists.

It's recess.

And it can pay hefty dividends. We can save up to $150,000 per school each year when we reclaim that class time. That's money our schools desperately need.

Quality, healthy play can drastically improve the learning environment. When you repair recess, you eliminate many of the distractions that get in the way of learning and free up teachers and principals to do more of what they do best.

And when kids have positive, active experiences on the playground, they come back to class more focused and ready to learn.

Alanna Lim, principal of Horace Mann Elementary School in Oakland, California, was recently featured on PBS' News Hour for her success in turning recess around.

"The teachers spend less time dealing with the problems on the playground in the classroom, so that means more instructional minutes right off the bat. The kids come back more refreshed," she explained.

The return on recess can be measured not just by reclaimed class time, but also fewer suspensions or disciplinary problems, better relationships between students and teachers, and improved focus and attention in the classroom.

Earlier this year, a study published in Pediatrics by Dr. Romina Barros of Columbia University's Albert Einstein College of Medicine showed that children behave better in the classroom when they have recess -- and students in our urban, low-income schools aren't getting enough of it.

The beauty of leveraging recess as a strategy for improving learning is that it is already part of the school day. Take an underutilized time that is a headache for most schools, and turn it into something that helps the entire school day go more smoothly for teachers and students alike.

All of these benefits explain why groups like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, not to mention principals around the nation, are taking recess seriously.

So before they add more days to the school calendar, President Obama and Secretary Duncan should help schools subtract the behavioral problems that bog down the school day by deploying training and other resources to improve the quality of recess.

That's a solution Sasha and Malia could get behind.

Learn more about safe, healthy play and how to repair recess at .