The Disadvantages of Longer School Days and Years
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 approximately 240 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. But maybe not.
Germany Versus Finland
Longer school years alone don't necessarily correlate with more success. German school years are approximately 240 days. Finland's school year is 190 days. Yet Finnish students do much better on the PISA test than their German counterparts. This table shows the ranking per subject for both countries.
Fifty extra schools days haven't made Germans better students. 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 length of the school year 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 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. 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 schools 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. I homeschool my youngest child and I've noticed she can't focus on math, language arts or science worksheets after 1pm. Fatigue and an inability to pay attention can make extra hours in school pointless.
Another problem is putting increased 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.
Another downside is that 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
Educational quality, rather than time spent in school, 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 they have an excellent math curriculum, which they are constantly reviewing and improving.
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