NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 2, 2010

In the face of budget shortfalls, school districts in many parts of the United States are moving toward four-day weeks despite the evidence that longer school weeks and years can improve academic performance, says Chester E. Finn Jr., a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and chairman of the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education. 

The additional time spent learning is one big reason that youngsters from many Asian nations routinely outscore their American counterparts on international tests of science and math, says Finn: 

  • Schoolchildren in China attend school 41 days a year more than most young Americans -- and receive 30 percent more hours of instruction.
  • Schools in Singapore operate 40 weeks a year.
  • Saturday classes are the norm in Korea and other Asian countries.
  • Meanwhile, Japanese authorities are having second thoughts about their 1998 decision to cease Saturday morning instruction.               

"Summer learning loss" is no joke, says Finn: 

  • When children return to school in late August or early September, many of them, especially the least advantaged, have shed a sizable portion of what they had learned by May -- a full month's worth, by most estimates, adding up to 1.3 school years by the end of high school.
  • The typical young American, upon turning 18, will have spent just 9 percent of his or her hours on this planet under the school roof (and that assumes full-day kindergarten and perfect attendance), versus 91 percent spent elsewhere.
  • As for the rest of that time recently reported that American youngsters now devote an astounding 7.5 hours per day to "using entertainment media" (including TV, the Internet, phones, and video games); that translates to about 53 hours a week -- versus 30 hours in school. 

It's scarcely news that young Americans devote less time to formal learning than do their international counterparts.  A federal commission on time and learning reported 16 years ago that "students in other postindustrial countries receive twice as much instruction in core academic areas during high school."   Required courses in those four years consumed 3,280 hours in French schools versus 1,460 in the United States.  Young Germans routinely devoted two hours a night to homework.  Half of Japan's ninth graders moved every afternoon from school to private school for additional instruction in core subjects. 

Source: Chester E. Finn Jr., "The Case for Saturday School," Hoover Digest, July 2, 2010. 

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