Everyone seems to know just what is wrong with our schools. It reminds me of the first time I agreed to umpire a little league baseball game. That is when I came to the realization that every mother sitting down behind third base could call balls and strikes better than I could from behind home plate. With every newspaper article on test scores, just watch the fingers begin to point.
All of us know the story. Students from Germany, Japan, and other countries continually rank above us on math and science standardized tests. Further, no matter how much money we throw at the problem and which new broom we use, (No Child Left Behind) our students do not seem to show significant progress.
Logic requires that we examine the factors that make up the U.S. educational plan.
These include facilities, supplies and materials, supervision, teachers, and length of school year and day, (ie. time on task).
Who has better or more school facilities than we have? In many countries they meet their classes in a nearby church, in the basement of a police station, or under a tree in the front yard of a teacher’s home. You should see the facilities that pass for schools in much of India and Sri Lanka where my wife and I lived for a time. Who has more up-to-date textbooks or supplies and materials than we do? In these important areas we would rank an undisputed number one.
The same holds 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. Here too, we rank number one.
How about teacher-student ratio? Across the U.S. the student-teacher ratio averages around 17-1, with some a little higher and some a bit lower. The ratios are much higher in virtually all other countries. Only England and Germany are close to us with ratios in the mid-20’s.
How about teacher preparation? 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 2-year degree. One cannot teach in the public schools of the U.S. without at least a bachelor’s (4-year) degree and almost half of our teachers have master’s degrees (5 years of preparation). There is no question that U.S. teachers rank number one in preparation for teaching our young people.
That leaves only one factor, time on task. Unfortunately, the U.S. ranks well down the list of all industrialized nations in the time students attend school. Most schools in the U.S. are set up for 180 teaching days. By contrast, Japan has students in school 225 days and Germany 223. Korea matches Japan but most students take additional classes on Saturday running their “time on task” considerably higher. You do the math. Japan, Germany, and Korea all have students in school the equivalent of an additional two months each year as compared to our young people. Forty additional days of instruction for 12 years computes out to two full years more instruction than our students receive. Why shouldn’t their test scores be higher?
Is solving our student productivity problem and getting test scores headed upward as simple as increasing “time on task?” Let’s hope it is. That would mean we don’t have to build more schools, hire more teachers, or buy more text books. We just need to give our well trained, highly motivated teachers more time with their students. If we want to match Germany and Japan we will need to add an additional two months to our school year. Any production line supervisor at a factory could have told us the key is “more time on task.”
Next week: Using test scores to compare productivity.
— You can reach Dr. Mark L. Hopkins at email@example.com. 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 Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and through the E-mail above.