By Sean Scarpiello
Over past years, the United States has slowly begun to drop in the ranks of the best educated students around the world. As students from all across the globe take standardized tests, it is becoming clear that one of the world’s superpowers is not doing so well among its peers. Countries like Japan, China (particularly in Shanghai), are proving to have some of the highest test scores in math and science. As the United States struggles among other emerging countries, many people are wondering exactly what is the United States’ educational system doing wrong. What can we learn from other countries’ educational system in order to improve that of the United States?
One initial solution to the problem that is constantly argued by critics is to increase the number of days students go to school. Japanese students attend more than 60 extra days of schools when compared to students in the United States. The Japanese also did much better on tests in comparison to the United States. There is definitely a correlation between the number of days at school and test score, but I do not see the benefits of adding 60 more school days to American students. Increasing the school year by 60 days in the United States would cause more harm than good. It would increase the length of the school year by 33% and thus all the teachers’ paychecks would need to be increased by 33% as well. This would just cause too much of an increase in taxes that Americans would be paying. Plus, it would increase costs for school districts in many other areas, such as transportation and cafeteria costs.
There could still be a bit of an increase in the number days students go to school, but I do not think any more than 20 extra days would be beneficial. Just a small increase in the number of school days would allow teachers to move at a bit of a slower pace so that students can take their time to learn the information more fully. It would also alleviate a lot of the stress for teachers so that there is not anything in the curriculum that needs to be crammed into the last week of school. A few weeks extension would also increase the pay of the teachers, but not to a huge or unmanageable extent.
Another option is to have a school year that goes through the summer. I know that it is an unpopular idea but it would definitely raise test scores. The lack of a long summer break in countries like Japan and China are more beneficial than their extra school days. In the US, the first two to three months of the school year are a review of the material learned the previous year. If there was just a constant flow of learning, material would not have to be relearned each year and more would get done. There is too much wasted time that goes towards relearning material in schools and to win that time back would allow a lot more new material to be taught. The transformation to a year round school year would not be difficult. Winter and spring breaks could be made longer and summer break could be made shorter in order to implement this year round learning. If the United States education system adopted a year round regimen, there wouldn’t be a need for lengthening the school year because time will be saved by simply not reviewing the previous year’s material.
Ultimately, either option could help out the United States greatly in the international ranks. However, each would take a lot of time and collaboration to design a schedule that is both practical and efficient.