February 05, 2005
Students in other wealthy Information Age countries receive twice as much instruction as American students in core academic areas during their secondary school years.
Educators, parents, employers and taxpayers often have been disappointed by the performance of American students on international examinations, particularly in mathematics and science. Since the length of the school year varies considerably among countries, this factor should be given serious consideration regarding American students.
On average, American students attend school 180 days a year. That compares with 190 days in the United Kingdom, 190 to 208 days in eastern Asian nations. No coincidence, then, that these Asian youngsters generally perform well on international comparison tests.
In Germany and Japan, learning is serious business and academic time is rarely interrupted. In the United States, however, students can receive a high-school diploma if they devote as little as 40 percent of their school time to core academic work. Estimated academic hours focused on mathematics, science, language and social studies during the final four years of secondary schooling tell a similar story: United States, 1,462; Japan, 3,190; France, 3,285; and Germany, 3,628.
Given these figures, it is unreasonable to expect American students to learn as much in these subjects as do their overseas peers. After all, by the end of middle school, Japanese students have spent as many days in school as American students have spent from kindergarten through high school. Thatís four more years of additional learning!
The traditional school-year calendars followed by nearly all U.S. school systems were modeled for the needs of an agrarian society and never were intended to be driven by educational priorities. The three- month break in the summer was so students could work on family-owned farms. But the agrarian calendar is now is a barrier to student achievement.
Some pertinent facts:
Human beings learn in different ways with different content at different rates. The shortfall placed upon our students by the 180-day school year will make a difference that is more significant than that made by setting standards for students in learning.
This is not a new issue. In 1894, U.S. Commissioner of Education William T. Harris reported a "distinct loss this year, the average number of days of schools having been reduced from 193.5 to 191." Nearly a century later, in 1983, when the need for school reform was touted through the national report, "A Nation at Risk," one recommendation was "the time available for learning should be expanded." In addition, the majority of parents responding to polls favor a longer school year.
Policy-makers should seriously consider lengthening the school year. At the very least, they should mandate a longer school year in those districts where the studentsí overall performance on standardized tests is lower than the national or state averages.
is Distinguished Research Professor at the
University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer
of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data