Class time isn’t shorter in U.S.

U.S. schoolchildren spend as much time in school as kids in high-scoring countries, concludes a report by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants a longer school day and year, notes the Washington Times.

“Right now, children in India … they’re going to school 30, 35 days more than our students,” he said at an education forum in September, explaining one reason he thinks the American education system is falling behind those of global competitors.

“Anybody who thinks we need less time, not more, is part of the problem,” Mr. Duncan said.

Students in India spend more days in school, but fewer hours in class, totaling 800 “instructional hours” at the elementary level. Forty-two states require more class hours, the report found. Texas requres 1,260 hours a year for elementary students.

High-scoring South Korea requires 703 hours for elementary students, though many parents pay for after-school lessons. Hungarian students score at nearly the U.S. level despite requiring only 601 hours.

U.S. high school students average 1,000 hours in class each year.

In Poland, high school students need 595 hours in the classroom, the lowest of all the countries in the study, yet they top U.S. students on the math and science portions of the PISA exams, the most widely used measuring sticks for international comparisons.

Finland, Norway, Australia and other nations also show higher levels of student achievement while requiring less instruction.

Of course, it’s not just the time spent at school, but how it’s used.


About Joanne


  1. Thank you for pointing this out. I lived in Germany and was surprised to see that younger children had all their school hours in before lunch, at which time they came home for the day. More hours in school doesn’t equal more learning.

  2. In my state, homeschoolers are required to do 4 hrs/day, 180 days/year. Since we’re still in K, we do maybe 2 hours of ‘real school’ (workbooks, reading, math, projects) and then more time with independent reading, blocks, crafts, etc. Although I’m sure we’ll fill in the full 4 hours with ‘real school’ as he gets older, I’ve been shocked at how much ground we cover in just a few focused hours. I remember from my school days how much time was wasted – assemblies, in-school sporting events, sitting around waiting for kids to finish or the period to be over…it’s not too hard to imagine that it could all be done more efficiently, using fewer hours at school. Those shorter hours, though, may require more hours of independent work at home as the kids get older.

  3. More hours in school does equal more babysitting.

  4. How much of the time kids spend is school in the US is solely focused on academics? No correcting behavior, kids talking in class, taking role, etc? I would love to see high school kids get the academics out of the way by lunch then those that need or want to work can the rest can do tutoring, arts, athletics, some combination of everything, etc…

    The US may spend more time in the school but i have to wonder about quality academic time, curriculum, instruction, etc…

    • tim: From direct observation as a high school teacher, I’d say the effective utilization over the course of a year is maybe 65%. Factor in role, announcements, bathroom, random disruptions, testing, assemblies, forGET about doing much during homecoming week…

      I’ll echo lu-lu: now that I’m homeschooling, it doesn’t take NEARLY the four hours that my old state would have required. We spend time on blocks and art and extra free reading. We enjoy some streamed history videos. Heck, we’ve even started goofing around with Civilization II and discussing the impact of geography on city development (physical geography anybody). Yesterday while reading about ancient Indus Valley civilizations, she said – “did they build the city on the far side of the river to defend themselves?”

    • My friend’s boyfriend teaches at a private school in England and their school is set up rather like that. Morning is academics, afternoon is all athletics. I’d be happier with a schedule that went something more like that with afternoon time for the yearbook or newspaper development and other elective courses as well as options for credentially in other fields for non college bound students or group project work based in the community.

  5. Deirdre Mundy says:

    My 7 year old daughter can finish a day’s worth of school in about 2 hours (on a cranky day) or 1 hour when she’s focused. Of course, our state now mandates 2 hours of independant reading a day for the school kids, and I don’t count her reading time as ‘school’, since she’d do that WITHOUT encouragement…. (I just scatter good books around and she wanders off with them)

    BUT we forget that the primary purpose of an American School isn’t EDUCATION, it’s SOCIALIZATION. How do I know? Because whenever someone criticizes me for homeschooling, they say that school isn’t supposed to be about academics and that the social stuff is most important.

    Hmmm…. I wonder how this attitude effects test scores?

  6. Well, there’s no denying that it takes more focus to be in school longer. It’s easier to be focused for a shorter than a longer period of time. The longer that students are not focused, then the less that they will learn. So, I can see how having shorter school days can be more conducive towards student achievement.

  7. Because whenever someone criticizes me for homeschooling, they say that school isn’t supposed to be about academics and that the social stuff is most important.

    Actually, it’s not that the social stuff is the most important, but that for the type of kid who can be taught by a domineering, reasonably well-educated mom (who really should learn the difference between effect and affect before her daughter makes a fool of her) will do as well in either academic setting. But the socialization skills she’ll get in school are not repeatable in a home environment. The selection bias of homeschooling moms who are, god save us, one of the most officious group of obnoxious ninnies with a college education that ever existed, pretty much guarantees their kids would be better off in school.

    • Well, I’m sooooo glad we’ve got a resident expert here to straighten us out! Prithee, o master guru, explain exactly how the “socialization skills” one learns in an artificial environment such as the school classroom (where children are isolated with their peer group and, unlike those children educated at home by “obnoxious ninnies”, don’t get to interact with a diversity of individuals from across the age spectrum), actually prepares one for “real life?” Oh, that’s right – if they don’t go to school, how else are they going to learn “socialization skills” such as mouthing off, running around in cliques, defying authority, and all sorts of other useful (anti-)social skills?

      “Socialization” like that is hardly desirable, and when that’s coupled with all the other garbage coming out of public schools, it’s not hard to imagine why more and more parents are opting to educate their children at home.

      Your attitude is narrow-minded and petty.

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      Because of course, a typo (a and e are awfully close on the keyboard and I freely admit to being a terrible typist) means that I am an unfit parent, and teachers never make mistakes.

      Good grief, Cal — you seem to have some real issues with homeschoolers these days— what childhood trauma are you dredging up???

      Also, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who would describe me as ‘domineering.’ I mean, sure, I make the kid put down the E.B. White so we can work on spelling, but that seems to be an issue of basic parenting.

      Look, homeschooling works best for some families, public schools for others. It depends on individual situations. Obviously homeschooling was NOT a good match for you or your kids. It is a good match for my family.

  8. I’m a teacher, by the way, and in high school, the wasted time is pretty minimal, considering who we are teaching.

  9. georgelarson says:


    How did anyone ever learn social skills before the rise of compulsory public education?

  10. georgelarson says:


    “officious group of obnoxious ninnies”

    If I had your vocabulary skills at the time I would have used your phrase to describe some of my Elementary, Junior High and High School teachers.

  11. When an institution is failing to use the resources that it already controls effectively, the answer is not to give it more resources to squander.

  12. Tom Linehan says:

    Add this to a long list of things that do not seem to matter in school outcomes. K-12 outcomes are in general a function of demographics. But demographics is not destiny. About 2 percent of US schools beat the demographics substantially. These schools are not just better. They are different. Educators in these schools and studies of these schools largely show that better teachers, higher expectations (standards and curricula), a system of accountability, a no excuses attitude and a culture of achievement/goal-orientation are the most important factors. No one has to be an expert in education to figure this out. All you have to do is listen to people who have created these schools. One of the most entertaining and candid is “Crazy Like a Fox”. But if you read the web sites of high performing schools such as Achievement First, you get basically the same ideas.

  13. Actually, we do not have compulsory education laws in the United States, we have compulsory attendance laws, which are NOT the same thing. These days, going to middle and high school for most students is about doing time in a sear, as opposed to learning, given that in a previous post, 40% of persons graduating from high school aren’t ready for a entry level job or higher education.

    Go figure…