In this series, I’ve advocated for K-12 schools to shift from the traditional summers-off school calendar to a year-round one. Consistency, less time spent relearning material, and the implications that year-round schooling has for closing the achievement gap are just a few of my reasons for feeling so strongly about this topic. There’s another piece to this argument though, and one that deserves a closer look. Along with more evenly splitting up time off, should schools be adding more time to their school days or more total days in the classroom?
Where We Stand
Let’s look at where American schools rank right now when it comes to days in school versus time off. Thirty states require schools to have a 180-day calendar, two ask for more than 181 school days and the rest ask for between 171 and 179 days on the official school calendar each year. Minnesota is the only state in the nation that has no minimum requirement for number of days students are in the classroom (though the state averages 175 school days). This means that in states with the lowest day requirements, students are out of school for more days than they are in it (as many as 194 days per year), a number that contrasts greatly with other developed nations.
Korea has the highest required number of school days, at 225, followed by Japan at 223 and China at 221. Canadian requirements are close to the U.S., at 188 days, and England is at 190 days. When all developed nations are considered, the international average for days in school is 193 - a full two weeks+ higher than most of the U.S.
But are all these days considered equal? How long are the school days in places like Korea, China and England? It varies, but it is not uncommon for Korean high school students to spend 16 hours each school day in classrooms. That is more than twice the amount of time that American students spend at school, and perhaps a bit too extreme. Korean students consistently rank at the top of developed nations when it comes to subjects like math and science, though, vastly outpacing U.S. student. By contrast, in England school-aged children spend 6.5 to 7 hours at school - the equivalent of American students (but they spend more days in the classroom).
A Call for More Time in Classrooms
When comparing the amount of time dedicated to educational settings in the U.S. and competing economies, it becomes glaringly obvious that our standards of what is acceptable in terms of days in school varies greatly from the rest of the world. Even President Obama has been vocal about the need for American schools to add more time in the classroom - either through longer school days or more days on the school calendar.
“Today, it puts us at a competitive disadvantage. Our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea. That is no way to prepare them for a 21st century economy,” said President Obama in 2009.
Predictably those comments have received some pushback in the years since, both from parents who believe their children are already under too much pressure at school and need every single day off they are allotted, and from teachers unions who want to know how educators will be properly accommodated for the extra time spent in classroom instruction. The idea of adding more time to student school calendars is an unpopular one - but I’m not sure that is reason enough to rule it out.
Is it time to turn the U.S. K-12 school calendar completely on its head by abolishing summers-off schedules and adding time in the classroom? Would such actions make a significant positive impact on student performance, particularly in STEM topics?
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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.