The school year in China typically runs from the beginning of September to mid-July. Ours in the United States usually goes from middle August to the first week of June.
Students in China also have great access to computer technology, with a computer to student ratio of 1:2. Chinese language and math skills are tested at the end of each year. Math is typically taught by drill, which means students are repeatedly taught the basics of math until they are able to demonstrate comprehension. We are deficient in math and science compared to most industrial countries and most public schools lack modern computing equipment, an essential tool for the work place.
Students in Japan go to school an average of 232+3x days, while students in the U.S. go to school an average of 184+4x days. We go to school an average of 50 fewer days and worse, most of our students are idle academically for almost 3 months.
It is true that many school districts offer special training during the summer in both math and science; the problem is few students take advantage of the opportunity. Recent drastic budget cuts for schools have made these trainings dependent on federal or private grants not accessible to most schools in poor areas.
We lack the culture shown by Asian students who flock to private academies after school to polish their skills in essential knowledge areas. Those Asian kids are the ones telling their parents that they want to study more, not less.
True, just as more money for schools is not the magic wand, extending the school year by 20 or more days will not necessarily improve our academic results. But it’s a first step if one considers all the lost days to testing and to ‘holiday mood’, a term I coined to described the ambiance in classrooms on the last days before Christmas or before the summer vacations. A not very good student even told me once when I asked him to do the assignment that I should chill out, it was Friday.
Other important steps that cost money, lots of money, is modernizing our schools to keep up with the latest revolutionary technology, reducing the size of schools to less than a thousand students, as research shows that smaller schools perform better, enticing more professionals from the science areas to become teachers by offering better pay and cutting the red tape needed to be certified in education, improving ties with private industry to show students what to expect in the work place, and reducing the insane power of some unions that prevent bad teachers from losing their jobs.
Are these pipe dreams in these difficult economic times? Will any candidate to high office have the guts to confront the educational problems and divert for our schools those gigantic wastes of money given outright to foreign countries who hate our guts?
Hey, one can dream, right?