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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

U.S. kids spend lots of time in school, but much of it is wasted

Rethink summer vacation, writes Rick Hess in an Education Week column. That doesn't mean extend the school year.

The much-discussed problem with the summer break is the "summer slide." To prevent students from losing reading and math skills, many want a longer school year, year-round schooling or some other way to increase learning time.

It has to be done right or not at all, Hess argues. "No one should imagine that locking kids in chaotic classrooms or lifeless schools during bright summer days is doing them any favors."

U.S. students spend a lot of time in school during the school year, he writes in Forbes, but much of it isn't used effectively.

The U.S. school year is shorter than the averaged in other developed countries, but the school day is longer. "The typical school day for American students is over six and a half hours," Hess writes. "For Finnish students, it’s about five hours. In Germany, it’s five and a half. In Japan, it’s six."

The average U.S. student spends more hours in school over their first nine years than the international average, reports the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In a 2015 study, researchers looked at a Massachusetts high school with an 180-day calendar. "There were seven early-release days for professional development, eight days for exams, another seven mornings set aside for the state test (all classes were paused though only tenth-graders took the exam), and so on," writes Hess. Only 62 percent of the school hours estimated by OECD were used for instruction. (And nobody knows whether that time resulted in learning.)

Another study, in 2021, documented time lost to disruptions in Providence, R.I. schools. Researchers estimated that 10 to 20 days of instructional time were lost to "intercom announcements, staff visits, and students entering (or re-entering) class."

"In many places, an enormous amount of school time — potentially something approaching half the academic year — is not being used effectively," Hess writes. "Before spending billions to lock kids up longer, we should ensure that schools are making use of the time they already have."

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Jul 06, 2023

Do routine desk audits. For years some have done this for themselves and it revealed that only 10 minutes or so of the 50 min class period were in actual instruction. The rest is chewed up in admin, discipline and off topic chatter by the teacher. Ten minutes, then off to repeat for another 10 minutes in a totally unrelated topic. And that is in schools with good student discipline.

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