Generally, American children attend school for 9 months. The school year takes place from August to May or September to June, depending on a number of factors.
These varying factors include the state, the district jurisdiction, the student’s grade level, and whether the school in question is private or public.
Because of all these factors, some schools, especially private ones, operate year-round with shorter school days and shorter breaks spread throughout the academic year.
The majority of schools, however, run on a 9-month school calendar and have June, July, and most of August off for summer break.
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How does this compare to other countries?
American students, in general, spend less time in school compared to students in other countries, such as China and India.
A 2017 Pew Research Center Poll indicates that the U.S. falls behind other countries in math, reading, and writing performances.
There’s one country, however, where students spend a similar amount of time in school as American students. It also happens to be known for its thriving, successful education system.
Despite the fact that Finnish students spend less time in the classroom, Finland’s education system consistently ranks as one of the best in the world.
On average, students in China spend 245 days in school, which roughly translates to 11.28 months.
But this information excludes the fact that many schools in China hold math and science classes in the morning, increasing students’ time in school.
If you compared this statistic to the US, whose students spend 180 days, or 8.28 months, in the classroom, you’ll notice that Chinese students spend a much longer time in school.
This doesn’t even include the fact that school days in China are typically much longer than in the US. Typically, a school day in China lasts for 9 or 9.5 hours, starting at 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. and ending at 5:00 p.m.
Another country with a strong education-centered culture is India. With an average of 231 days or 10.63 months, in school, Indian students spend a much longer amount of time in class compared to their American counterparts.
According to officials in India, the more time students spend in the classroom, the more they’ll actually learn.
They say this is particularly true in rural areas, where they believe that students are exposed to much less mental stimuli at home. They say that students should be spending between 220 and 230 days, or 10.13 and 10.59 months, in school.
Although in the US students spend a much shorter amount of time in school than their peers in other industrialized countries, some countries do have about the same amount of instructional time.
One of these countries is Finland, with its maximum of 190 days, or 8.75 months, of school.
But that number is a maximum, not a minimum, and the majority of schools in Finland are in session for fewer days/months than that allotted time.
Despite the education system’s less rigid requirements and expectations, Finnish students are known to routinely outperform their peers from other countries.
Their advantage largely comes from the system’s emphasis on holistic and individualized learning, which contrasts with other countries’ strict, one-size-fits-all education systems.
Interesting facts about the US education system
Aside from the time spent in school and math, reading, and writing scores, the US differs in many other ways from other industrialized countries around the world.
Listed below are some key differences between the US education system and other countries.
- Starting school – For the most part, children in G-20 countries start school earlier in life than American children. According to research, 90% of students in France, Italy, Germany, and the UK had begun their formal education by 3 or 4 years of age. In the US, that percentage was much lower. However, the enrollment rate for 3- and 4-year-old children (64%) in the US was higher than 6 G-20 countries, such as Turkey and Indonesia. Russia was on the upper end, with 73%. One factor that, perhaps, needs to be considered is the rate at which parents teach their preschool children how to read and write. While a country may have a low preschool enrollment rate, the rate of parents providing their young children a reading/writing education at home may be much higher.
- Attitudes toward reading – According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 33% of girls and 20% of boys in the US said they enjoyed reading. Only a few countries, like Russia, Italy, and Saudi Arabia, reported lower rates. Perhaps surprisingly, boys and girls in the US reported being “motivated to read” a lot more than enjoying reading. This might suggest that while students may be extrinsically motivated to read (e.g., so they can please their parents or avoid punishment), they might lack an inner, or intrinsic, motivation to read.
- STEM professional development – American teachers receive more professional development in STEM than teachers in other G-20 countries. At the 8th grade level, the US was the only country in the study where most of the students had teachers with training in areas like math and science pedagogy and assessment. At the 4th grade level, nearly 70% of American teachers said they had been a part of a professional development program in math content. This was the highest rate among all the countries in the study. The country most similar to the US in terms of STEM professional development was Russia, where the majority of its 8th-grade teachers had trained in a fairly similar program.
- Education and taxes – Through taxation, American citizens spend $11,800 for every K-12 student and $25,000 for every college student, spending more on education than any other country in the study. Included in this spending are teachers’ salaries, materials for the classroom, and even transportation and meals. That being said, graduation rates in the US are mediocre at best, with only a few countries, like China, Mexico, and Turkey lagging behind. Countries like Germany, Canada, Korea, and Italy dominate the US in this area.
American students generally spend less time in school (9 months) throughout the year than students in other industrialized countries.
Also, the US lags behind other countries when it comes to performance in math, reading, and writing. Although China and Finland have vastly different education systems, they both consistently outperform most countries in these areas.
However, these are not the only areas in which students in the US differ from their peers around the globe. As a whole, American students start school later than children in other G-20 countries.
They’ve also reported lower levels of reading enjoyment, although many of them have reported being “motivated to read.”
Another difference is that American teachers undergo more STEM professional development than teachers elsewhere.
And although American citizens spend more tax dollars on education than citizens in other countries, US graduation rates are quite mediocre, with only a few countries lagging behind.
Whether American students’ performances in math, reading, and writing and graduation rate are a result of the factors mentioned above is a difficult question to answer.
But what is certain is that several aspects of the US education system, such as reading, writing, and math education, need to be improved.
When this happens, American children will be on a better trajectory and will hopefully, after a period of time, be on par with their peers in other industrialized countries.