In a recent report, Time in School: How Does the U.S. Compare?, the Center for Public Education (CPE) looked at the question of whether spending more hours in school would help U.S. students compete more effectively with students in other countries. Arne Duncan, the U.S. Department of Education Secretary, in testimony to a Congressional hearing, indicated that U.S. students are in competition with students from China and India who spend 25 to 30 percent more hours in school. Duncan claimed that our students are at a disadvantage because of the difference in time.
The question was asked:“Are students in India and China required to go to school longer than U.S. students?” When careful comparison was made it actually looked like the answer was No. When CPE researchers compared data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Data on Education, Chinese and Indian students are not required to spend more time in school than most of the U.S. students.
One factor that makes comparison difficult between the U.S. and other countries is that in the U.S. each state determines the number of days and hours per day that students go to school. But most schools do require between 175 and 180 days of school a year and between 900 and 1,000 hours of instruction per year.
India requires 800 instructional hours at the elementary school level compared to 840 hours in California, 900 in Florida, New York, and Massachusetts, and 1,200 in Texas.
Comparison of hours of instruction a year between the U.S. and European countries produces some interesting comparisons. Finland has the fewest with 608 hours to 926 hours in France. None of the states in the U.S. require as few hours as Finland and yet Finland’s students win top notice in the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) tests. But the point should be made that the U.S. does not require schools to provide less instructional time than other countries provide. Some schools, as in china and India, provide more days on instruction but do not necessarily provide more hours of instruction. American schools should not feel compelled to provide more hours based on this false perception.
Additional time can be effective in improving student outcome. But district personnel and school teachers need to remind themselves that how the time is used is more important than the number of hours being used. The time that is already being utilized needs to be closely examined to see how effective it is. The report urged education leaders to consider these points before moving ahead:
Determine how effectively school time is currently being used.Do schools require enough time to match their standards?
Explore scheduling alternatives that use existing time.School districts should consider planning some year-round schools.
If considering block scheduling, look at the research.Research results are mixed on block scheduling.
Low-cost options, like four-day weeks, can prove beneficial. Some of the states that have tried this have students testing better, fewer disciplinary problems, more collaboration amongst teachers and higher morale throughout.
Logistics can be challenging, but are solvable. Look to see how other schools have dealt with logistics.
The data is clear that most schools in the U.S. require at least as many hours of instruction as countries like Finland, Japan, and Korea. The report sums up its main point: “Providing extra time is only useful if that time is used wisely.”