More school, better test scores?

The results of the recent PISA tests, an international assessment comparing countries around the world in reading, math and science, posted extraordinary scores for students in Shanghai, China.  Meanwhile, 15 year olds in the US ranked 23 out of 34 countries!
Why is the US falling so far behind other countries in Math and Science?  Some claim more instructional days are the answer.  As Malcom Gladwell points out in Outliers, China has a long history of working hard, and working longer.

In Los Angeles, the school board just voted to change the school year to begin in mid August, stating that research indicates this kind of calendar produces better learning.  I searched for this research and couldn’t find anything to substantiate this claim.  However, I did find research indicating that more instructional days did lead to better learning, as this well written editorial in the Los Angeles Times indicates.  Of course, with budget cuts in education, more instruction isn’t even on the table.

So what’s the bottom line?  Do more days in school lead to better scores on tests?  Below is  comparison of number of days in school (Rocha, 2006) and scores on the 2009 Pisa for several countries including the US.  As you can see, although China tops the instructional days as well as the scores in Math/ Science, the next two highest scores, in Singapore and Hong Kong have the same or even less instructional days than the US.

So, cross instructional days off the list of explanations about why we are failing… Maybe it’s the water?

County Instructional Days Scores (Math/Science)
USA 180 487/502
China 221 600/ 575
Singapore 180 562/542
Italy 210 483/489
England 190 492/513
Hong Kong 176 555/549

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