from THE BUFFALO NEWS- Education reform: U.S. Students Need a Longer School Year

U.S. Students Need A Longer School Year

by William L. Bainbridge

January 31, 2005

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It’s always interesting at the end of an extended holiday vacation or a long summer break to have parents claim, " The vacation from school was just too long! " As one walks the halls of schools after such breaks, even the students seem to be pleased to get moving again. Too much play, television, video games and free time can be boring. Bored young people sometimes have great skills in finding trouble.

American students have a shorter school year than those living in twelve of the world’s other wealthiest nations. Students in other information-age countries receive twice as much instruction as American students in core academic areas during their secondary school years.

On average, in the United States, students attend school 180 days, in the UK 190 days and in Eastern Asia 208 days. It would appear to be no coincidence that Eastern Asian students generally perform well on international comparison tests. Many of the countries where students outscored ours have instructional calendars that are 3-4 weeks longer each year than that provided for American students.

In Germany and Japan, learning is serious business and "academic time" is rarely interrupted. In the United States, conversely, students can receive a high school diploma if they devote as little as 40% of their school time to core academic work. Estimated focused academic hours in mathematics, science, language and social studies during the final four years of schooling include: USA 1462, Japan 3190, France 3285 and Germany 3628.

It is unreasonable to expect American students to learn as much as their overseas peers in half the time and with only 40% of their time focused on core academic work.

The challenge for American educators is exacerbated by the exponential increase in the amount of information our young people are expected to absorb within the 180-day school year. It seems like every year new subject matter and standards are mandated yet the length of the school year has not increased.

The traditional calendars, distributed annually by nearly all U.S. school systems in the spring, were never intended to be driven by educational priorities. The three-month break in the summer was a necessity, enabling students to help their parents on family-owned farms. The agrarian calendar is now is a barrier to student achievement.

Policy-makers should take the length of the school year under serious consideration. At the very least, policy-makers should mandate lengthening the school year in those schools where the students’ overall performance on standardized tests is lower than the national or state average.

William L. Bainbridge is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and President and Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch, a Columbus,Ohio,-based educational auditing, research and data firm. Contact

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