According to the 2012 results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, the United States is 36th in math, 28th in science, and 24th in reading. The troubling results are leading to calls for longer school days and/or longer school years. One reason for this is the fact that some high-performing countries have very long school years. For example, Japanese students attend school for a minimum of 210 days, and South Koreans attend for approximately 220 days. Compare this to American students who attend for about 180 days. So, a longer school year seems to make sense.
Nations with Similar School Years
Longer school years alone don't necessarily correlate with more success. German school years are approximately 187 to 191 days. Finland's school year is 190 days. Yet Finnish students do much better on the PISA test than their German counterparts despite spending similar amounts of time at school. This table shows the ranking per subject for both countries.
Switzerland, with 191 days in the school year, also outperforms Germany in math with a ranking of 9. The Swiss do a little better in reading at 17. But they do worse in science at 19. The UK, with a school year of 190 days, did worse than all these nations ranking 23rd for reading, 26th for math, and 20th for science. Despite having similar school years, all of these countries have very different outcomes. The length of the school year in and of itself doesn't seem to be a huge factor in student achievement.
According to the Huffington Post:
"A Center for Public Education review found that students in India and China – countries [Former United States Secretary of Education Arnie] Duncan has pointed to as giving children more classroom time than the U.S. – don't actually spend more time in school than American kids, when disparate data are converted to apples-to-apples comparisons."
-- Longer School Year: Will It Help Or Hurt U.S. Students?
One reason is that more days in school don't necessarily mean more instructional hours for the tested subjects, math, science, and reading. Japanese students spend about 210 days in school, but some of those days include sports days and field trips. In some comparisons, American students actually spend more instructional hours per year learning math, science, and reading but still have lower scores.
Problems With a Longer School Day
Longer school days also have their own problems. When I went the school, the last hour was usually devoted to art or the teacher reading a story. Everyone was tired at that point and likely wouldn't have been able to pay attention to any academically demanding subjects. Fatigue and an inability to pay attention can make extra hours in school pointless.
Another problem is increasing demands on already overstressed and overwhelmed teachers who have to arrive early to work on lesson plans and spend their evenings grading work. Longer school days and years may push even more experienced teachers out of the profession.
Also, children may have less time to devote to non-school activities like sports, art, and music lessons that provide their own benefits.
Quality Is the Real Problem
Rather than time spent in school, educational quality is America's real problem. Having children spend more hours and days in a failing educational system won't make them more successful students. Singapore excels in math because it has an excellent math curriculum that undergoes constant review and improvement.
The whole American education system needs an overhaul, which is obviously easier said than done. But here are two examples of problems that need to be addressed and solved:
"According to the most recently available data, 69% of US fifth- through eighth-grade students are being taught mathematics by teachers who do not possess a degree or certificate in mathematics. Fully 93% of students in those grades are being taught physical sciences by teachers with no degree or certificate in the physical sciences. Even in high school, the corresponding likelihoods are 31% for mathematics, 61% for chemistry, and 67% for physics. Many entire school districts do not have a single teacher with an academic degree in mathematics or science."
-- The National Academies Press, Is America Falling Off the Flat Earth?
"American textbooks are both grotesquely bloated...and light as a feather intellectually, flitting briefly over too many topics without examining any of them in detail...Textbooks have become so bland and watered-down that they are “a scandal and an outrage,” the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit education think tank in Washington, charged in a scathing report issued a year and a half ago."
-- NBC News: A textbook case of failure
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2014 LT Wright
LT Wright (author) from California on March 03, 2014:
A big problem is that kids are expected to know more than ever before, so it is hard to find enough time in the day. However, if you extend days and years too much kids become burned out. I feel like education as it's been done for decades has become outdated and new ways to educate have to be developed.
Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on March 03, 2014:
Very interesting. A school year can become too short as well. In South Africa school finishes about two in the afternoon so the day as such is not too long. What we are finding now, however, is that the school yeas has been made so short there is not enough time to get through all the work.
So the kids get homework to do work that has not been explained to them at all. Once my granddaughter came here with some Math homework and she had no idea what to do I had to explain it to her as it has not been done in class because of a lack of time.
The other day she came home with a test result of 45% and my son nearly had a hart attack, she said everyone in class had similar results. When he investigated he found that the work had not been explained to them at all! There was simply not enough time.
Wendy Golden from New York on January 09, 2014:
The education system is such a mess right now...we're all burned out. Thank you for pointing out what should be obvious to the powers-that-be. :-)
LT Wright (author) from California on January 09, 2014:
My sister is a teacher and she's burned out by December every year. More time in school would come at a great cost to teachers and students and likely wouldn't improve educational outcomes.
Wendy Golden from New York on January 09, 2014:
Thank you for this thoughtful hub. As a teacher with almost 20 years in the NYC school system you are right on about everything. Longer school days do not equal success and it just wears out the kids and teachers. Quality curriculums are what we need, not extra time teaching test prep. Great hub! Voted up!