As school board members and administrators, you may have heard the charge that U.S. students spend less time in school than their peers in other countries. It fits with the notion that we in the United States aren’t as serious about education as such top-performing nations as Finland, or up-and-coming competitors such as India and China.
There are two problems with the above assertion, according a new report from NSBA’s Center for Public Education titled Time in School: How Does the U.S. Compare? One, it isn’t true: U.S. students spend just as many, or more, hours in class than in countries like China, and Finland. And, secondly: Sheer time in class is not a good indicator of educational excellence.
“Providing extra time is only useful if that time is used widely,” says the study, written by Jim Hull, the Center’s senior policy analyst. “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.”
To compare time spent in school, the Center looked at international data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Data on Education Seventh Edition 2010-11. Because minimum hours in the United States are set by individual states, the Center used for comparison data from five states that enroll a significant number of U.S. students: California, Florida, New York, Texas, and Massachusetts.
In most cases, U.S. students were required to attend as many, or more, hours of class as their international counterparts. For example, at the middle school level, the number of hours of instruction ranged from a low of 777 hours in top-performing Finland to 1,001 hours in Italy, an average performer.
“Three of our five large states, New York (990 hours), Texas (1,260 hours) and Massachusetts (990 hours) would rank near the top of all industrialized nations in number of hours required,” the report said. “California and Florida would rank near the middle at 900 hours but still above the OECD average of 886 hours.”
More important than total hours is the way schools use them, the report said. It said that school districts should evaluate how effectively they use existing school time and consider alternatives.