Comparing Countries’ Instructional Hours

By Michele Molnar — May 11, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Ask parents how much time their students spend in school, and many answer, “Not enough.”

Ask students, and many say, “Too much.”

Ask the public, and the answer might be, “Less than students in other countries.” Is that really true?

“There is a perception among policymakers and the public that U.S. students spend less time in school than students in other countries,” reports The Center for Public Education in its study of instructional hours called “Time in School: How Does the U.S. Compare?”

In fact, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan once said children in India and China go to school 25 to 30 percent longer than children in the U.S. Researchers for the center started their evaluation with this comparison.

Calculations of U.S. instructional hours show that hours spent in school vary according to state mandate, with most states requiring between 175 and 180 days of school—which translates into between 900 and 1,000 instructional hours per year.

The center’s researchers found that, in India, students at the middle school level spend 220 days a year in the classroom, but their 1,000 instructional hours mirror those in much of the U.S. China middle school students receive a similar number of instructional hours.

Other countries’ hours of instruction for middle school students (for the sake of comparison here) were:

  • England 925
  • Finland 777
  • Japan 868
  • Korea 867
  • Mexico 1167
  • Sweden 741

Korea, Finland, and Japan are all considered high-performing countries, based on their students’ scores on international tests.

For parents and the public, the center’s study comes to this conclusion:

“The U.S. does not require schools to provide less instructional time than other countries. Basing policy decisions on this false perception alone could be costly and provide no clear benefits. Providing extra time is only useful if that time is used wisely. As the Center’s report “Making Time” found, the relationship between time and student learning is not about the amount of time spent in school. Rather, it is how effectively that time is used.

“And this report has also shown that there is no relationship between simply requiring more time and increased achievement. The data shows that a number of countries that require fewer hours of instruction outperform the U.S., while the U.S. performs as well as or better than some other countries that require more hours of instruction.”

More from “Time in School: How Does the U.S. Compare?” is available here, and from the center’s earlier “Making Time” report, which covers what happens when more time is devoted to instruction, here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP