Raising student test scores has become a national obsession. Everyone seems to know just what is wrong with our schools, and proposed solutions to the many problems seem to come from everywhere.
All of us know the story. The students from Germany, Japan, and other countries we must compete with in the world marketplace 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, (i.e., No Child Left Behind) our student test scores are not going up.
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 (i.e., time on task).
If one compared facilities, textbooks, supplies and materials, between U.S. schools and others, who could match us? 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 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? No one. In these important areas we would rank an undisputed No. 1.
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 No. 1.
How about teachers? 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-20s.
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 two-year degree. One cannot teach in the public schools of the U.S. without at least a bachelors (four-year) degree and almost half of our teachers have master’s degrees (five-plus years of preparation). There is no question that U.S. teachers rank No. 1 in preparation for teaching our young people.
That leaves only one factor, time on task, left to compare and there, unfortunately, the U.S. ranks well down the list of all industrialized nations. Most schools in the U.S. are set up on 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 of instruction more than our students receive. Why shouldn’t their test scores be higher?
Page 2 of 2 - Is solving our student productivity problem and getting test scores headed upward as simple as increasing “time on task”? Can it be that easy? Lets hope it is. That would mean we don’t have to build more schools, hire more teachers or buy more textbooks.
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.
Unfortunately, even knowing what the problem is may not help. As Mark Twain said about the weather, “Everyone is talking about it, but no one is doing anything about it.”
Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. Contact him at email@example.com.