It's About Time

By Jim Hull

Almost from day one, the Obama administration has advocated for students to spend more time in school. Officials argued that U.S. students spend less time in school than students in other countries. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has stated: “Our students today are competing against children in India and China. Those students are going to school 25 to 30 percent longer than we are. Our students, I think, are at a competitive disadvantage. I think we’re doing them a disservice.”

Of course Duncan is far from the only one to make such a claim. It seems it is just taken as a fact that our students spend less time in school than their international peers. It may be because we often hear of the stories of how Japanese and Korean students work late into the night on their school work as U.S. students play sports and hang out with their friends.

But are these stories the norm for the average student? Do students in other countries receive more classroom instruction than U.S. students? To find the answers, NSBA’s Center for Public Education (CPE) examined the international data in its report, Time in School: How does the U.S compare?, released late last year.

The answers to both questions were quite simply no. Yes, countries such as Korea and India have longer school years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their students receive more instruction. When examining actual time of instruction instead of simply the number of days in the school year, you may be surprised to find out that most U.S. schools are required to provide more hours of instruction per year than most countries -- including traditionally high-performing countries such as Finland, Japan, and Korea. CPE’s report also found the same to be true when the data was compared to India and China. So students in China and India do not spend 25 percent to 30 percent longer in school than students in the U.S., as Duncan asserted.

Keep in mind that CPE’s report is based on compulsory hours of instruction -- the minimum amount of instruction schools are required to provide. So there certainly can, and likely are, schools in China, India, Japan, and Korea that provide more instructional time than schools in the U.S. However, the data shows that is not necessarily the norm for all students.

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