Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lazy Summers, Short Days, Fewer Weeks in School

THE ECONOMIST -- American children also have one of the shortest school days, six-and-a-half hours, adding up to 32 hours a week. By contrast, the school week is 37 hours in Luxembourg, 44 in Belgium, 53 in Denmark and 60 in Sweden (see chart above). On top of that, American children do only about an hour’s-worth of homework a day, a figure that stuns the Japanese and Chinese.

American children have it easier than most other children in the world, including the supposedly lazy Europeans. They have one of the shortest school years anywhere, a mere 180 days compared with an average of 195 for OECD countries and more than 200 for East Asian countries. German children spend 20 more days in school than American ones, and South Koreans over a month more. Over 12 years, a 15-day deficit means American children lose out on 180 days of school, equivalent to an entire year.

Americans also divide up their school time oddly. They cram the school day into the morning and early afternoon, and close their schools for three months in the summer. The country that tut-tuts at Europe’s mega-holidays thinks nothing of giving its children such a lazy summer. But the long summer vacation acts like a mental eraser, with the average child reportedly forgetting about a month’s-worth of instruction in many subjects and almost three times that in mathematics.

The understretch is also leaving American children ill-equipped to compete. They usually perform poorly in international educational tests, coming behind Asian countries that spend less on education but work their children harder. California’s state universities have to send over a third of their entering class to take remedial courses in English and maths. At least a third of successful PhD students come from abroad.


20 Comments:

At 6/14/2009 8:53 AM, Blogger DaveinHackensack said...

So with a longer school day and school year, American students will be up to snuff with their counterparts in Sweden and Singapore, is this the Economist's thesis? Could there perhaps be some other variable that might lead to lower academic performance in the U.S. versus in Scandinavia or East Asia?

 
At 6/14/2009 9:12 AM, Anonymous gettingraional said...

Most people who read this blog had the same school year as U.S. kids do now. The difference is the increasing chaos at home for kids these days. Combine that with the intense focus on the loudest and lewdest (celebrity worship) and the result is a trivilization of gaining knowledge.

 
At 6/14/2009 10:15 AM, Blogger Andy said...

60 hours seems excessive (there must be significant diminishing returns?) but 32 is probably too low. Something like 40-45 is probably a good amount.

Although it's probably more accurate to look at hours in school + hours doing homework (I don't know what effect this would have on the differences).

 
At 6/14/2009 10:53 AM, Blogger jeppen said...

As a Swede, I can guarantee that 60 hours is way, way off. In international comparisons, Sweden come out low in hours.

In our 9 years of primary school, (from 7 years to 16 years old), kids have 6665 teacher-led hours in total, or an average of 740 hours per year. The OECD average is 920 hours.

 
At 6/14/2009 11:07 AM, Blogger KJ said...

This data is utter garbage...it obviously includes day care time and isn't pure instructional time.

 
At 6/14/2009 11:15 AM, Anonymous silvermine said...

Oh, and it couldn't have anything to do with how they *use* the time. Surely more is always better.

 
At 6/14/2009 12:34 PM, Blogger Mac said...

With all due respect to any Swedes reading this blog what has the extra hours in school produced? It seems that Google, eBay, etc. were creations of students of the American school system.

 
At 6/14/2009 2:03 PM, Anonymous Αμάτι Nώνυμος said...

"
mega-holidays thinks nothing of giving its children such a lazy
"

Mega-misinterpretation as usual

In reality foster-grandparents have taught parents to teach basic skills to children at exquisitely young age for full development of lightning fast American Number Crunching. Our children finish up work early on then ride bus home to their computers in time to hammer the closing tick of commodities market.

By contrast beautiful Swedish children are forced to stay late as punishment for banging each others brains out on bloody playground.

To test my hypothesis should we also compare Alaska school time with Hawaiian?

Aloha kaauna

A

 
At 6/14/2009 2:24 PM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 6/14/2009 3:24 PM, Blogger Jack Miller said...

The real question is, "how to motivate kids and parents"? Schools and parents are reluctant to "hold a student back a grade". The problem starts with having a grade system. Classes should be more like college classes, one class might be prerequisite to the next, but age should not be the selection criteria. Even playing on the baseball team should be based on ability not age and those failing in class should spend extra time in the classroom while others enjoy extracuricular activities.

 
At 6/14/2009 3:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This smells like union stuff.

In my school district, they cut the school day so teachers can go to meetings.

 
At 6/14/2009 7:15 PM, Anonymous Dr. T said...

The longer school days and school years in European countries are more about parking the kids in school care than providing extra teaching.

What isn't shown on the chart is that American school kids get much more homework than European kids. Unfortunately, much of the homework is repetitive drill or useless busywork.

With good teaching, six hours of school plus one hour of homework (two for high schoolers) is more than adequate for most students to learn the basics. Our education problem isn't about time; it's about quality. Public schools have many mediocre teachers with tenure and union protection. When we can replace poor teachers with good ones, then our kids will get better educations.

 
At 6/15/2009 12:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I know about Japan is that some of those extra days are half-days that they use for "Culture Festivals".

 
At 6/15/2009 8:01 AM, Blogger Jack Miller said...

Public support should be available for schools for 4 year olds, but high school should be more like college, attend only if you make the grades. It cost us more to baby sit 16 year olds than 4 year olds. The consequences of not doing the work should be clear. Many a 17 year old who was not ready to study at 16 would be ready after bagging groceries or cutting grass for minimum wages for a year. Many a parent would be more supportive of teachers if 10% of the students with low grades were expected to take a semester off before applying to finish high school.

 
At 6/15/2009 8:26 AM, Blogger Yorzhik said...

As a homeschool parent I can say that we spent much less than 32 hours in a week in instruction and our children have so far tested above average. Not only that, but so far our kids have shown great character, too (which everyone should know is more important than book learning in any case).

I would say this is typical of homeschoolers. Time in school has very little to do with it.

Even beyond that, you'll see that more time in school won't help even if we don't include homeschoolers. Consider that time in school has been rather consistent for many decades, and over those decades we went from being at the top of academic achievement as a country to a country that has very little academic achievement relative to its resources. Again, it's not the time spent in school that's the problem.

 
At 6/15/2009 8:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surely you're not suggesting an expansion of our socialized public education system?

 
At 6/15/2009 10:39 AM, Blogger Jack Miller said...

I do not support an expansion of the current format. As the home schooling parent noted, the problem is not the amount of time spent in school. It is time to stop baby sitting teenagers. We teach them the wrong lessons.

 
At 6/15/2009 11:35 AM, Blogger misterjosh said...

Other problems:


Ridiculous work rules mandated by unions.
We are teaching to the middle. We need to teach what the kids can learn.
Underpaid teachers combined with too much tolerance for incompetence.

 
At 6/15/2009 3:04 PM, Blogger Jack Miller said...

Agreed.

 
At 2/05/2010 10:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I'm in grade 11 at a Maryland school. We have school from 8:00-2:45, most of my classes we don't do a single thing, maybe listen to our ipods, text, talk, whatever we want, because our class is full of african-americans and the teacher cant control us all. at the end of the day, he will assign maybe 15 minutes worth of homework a night, but if you do it at night, you're quite the imbecile. Why do it at night when you can do it right before he checks to see who's done it? And no, he doesn't ACTUALLY check it, he goes through his class list and asks us if we've done it. I've been to Spanish school in Spain, and it was a lot more challenging than this sorry excuse of an education. Then again they don't have african-americans. . .

 

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