“I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas,” said President Obama during a speech in Washington in 2009. President Obama stated that the U.S. has fallen behind in education compared to other countries in the world, and it has. He proposes that the United States have longer school years and days, one of the many ideas that have been considered as a way to improve the education system.
The time to spend and invest on our education system has long been past due. Studies published by universities such as Harvard and tests such as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) have shown that the U.S. lags dangerously behind in education. With a score of 487 in mathematics, the U.S. is below average worldwide and ranks 31st of the many countries whose students have taken the PISA test. This further emphasizes the need for the U.S. to invest in education.
As President Obama said in his speech, extending the school year and day is not a popular idea, especially among students. Many students would prefer to spend their time doing activities they like, such as hanging out with friends and hobbies. Parents and students who are in favor of extending the school year and day argue that countries that score the best in PISA and other national assessments such as China, have a much longer school years and that students often spend more than 10 hours in school or in an academic activity. Opponents of the idea of extending the time students spend in school however, claim that doing so would not actually improve education levels.
Consider Finland for example. The PISA test scores of Finland are far superior to that of the United States, yet students spend less time in school. According to the Washington Post and Business Insider, Finnish students spend a half hour longer at recess than the U.S’ average recess time of 27 minutes.
Finland invests in education in a different way. The process for selecting teachers is also radically different than that of the United States. To become a teacher in Finland, students must graduate in the top 10 percent of their college. Teachers are paid less when they start out, when compared to U.S. teachers. By the 15th year of teaching, however, Finnish teachers earn much more than a teacher in the United States with the same amount of experience.
The rewarding of teachers does not occur just in Finland. Countries that outperform the U.S. in education such as South Korea also reward teachers who perform well with higher pay, sometimes equal or rivaling to the salaries of doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Opponents argue that if we reward teachers in such a way, teachers in the United States would perform better, or risk losing their job.
Whether the United States decides to extend the school year or not, the government needs to reform the education system quickly. With many countries that once could not be compared to the United States in education now surpassing us, the need for the government to invest in the education system is even more dire. A country without educated citizens damages its reputation and cannot compete with foreign countries.
For these reasons, the United States needs to act hastily if we want to continue to compete with other countries. By investing in our educational system and supporting children in their academic life, we can become the educated powerhouse we once were.