It is hard to open a newspaper today and not find something negative written about the state of education in the U.S. Fifty years ago our students ranked in the top five in most key educational areas as compared with students of other countries. Today they rank somewhere between numbers 18 and 25.

Logic requires that we examine the factors that make up the U.S. educational plan. These include facilities, supplies and materials, curricula, supervision, teachers, and length of school year and day.

If one compared any of the items listed above, who could match us? Who has better or more school facilities than we have? The same is true for supervision. We have more principals, curriculum supervisors, personnel handlers, etc. per teacher and per pupil than are available in the schools of any other country.

Teachers? The primary degree for teaching in all current and former U.K. countries such as England, India, South Africa, etc. is a three year bachelor’s degree. In much of Asia it is a two-year degree. One cannot teach in the public schools of the U.S. without a bachelor’s (four-year) degree and almost half of our teachers have master’s degrees. There is no question that U.S. teachers rank number one in preparation. That leaves only one factor left to compare. That is time on task. Unfortunately, the U.S. ranks well down the list of all industrialized nations in the amount of time students spend in school.

The statistical reality is that we have not so much slid backwards as we have, instead, stood still, while the rest of the world has continued to change and move forward. In the mid-1960s much of the rest of the world had copied our educational system. We did it better so our students ranked higher on standardized tests. Since that time we have continued in our mid-20th century pattern while our international competition has made that promote higher student achievement levels.

A decade ago I visited both China and India and talked with education officials about their elementary and secondary education systems. There are a number of differences between their approach and ours. A key one can be identified as “time on task.”

Chinese junior high and high school students begin their classes at 7:30 a.m. each day and conclude the class portion of their school day at 6 p.m. They are allowed an hour for dinner with their families and then report back to their schools for 2 1/2 hours of supervised study. They finally are released to head home at 9:30 p.m. Their schools operate six days a week for 220 days each year. In India, they have a similar schedule without the supervised study.

By contrast, our students attend school 5-6 hours each day in a 180-day school year. Students in most of Asia and parts of Europe attend 7-9 hours for more than 200 days and some attend as much as 240 days. The average is two-plus additional months of school each year around the globe as opposed to the American approach.

Why do we teach only 180 days? The answer is in the traditions of an agrarian society. One hundred years ago, young people were needed at home to pick cotton and take care of the stock. Our 21st century school schedule is stuck firmly in the 19th century and does not reflect the changes in our economic system.

Thus, American students have a “built in” handicap when they are compared to students in other countries who get more instruction and have more time on task in the learning process. Why shouldn’t their test scores be higher?

The answer to getting higher test scores is obvious. Our students need more time with their teachers. Time on task is the key.
— You can reach Dr. Mark L. Hopkins at Books by Hopkins, “Journey to Gettysburg, The Wounds of War, The World as it was When Jesus Came,” and “Facts & Opinions on the Issues of our Time,” can be acquired at, Barnes & Noble, and through the E-mail above.