Typical U.S. students spend three hours a weekday learning core academic subjects, half as much time as their counterparts in Germany and Japan, according to a congressionally mandated commission that today will recommend lengthening the American school day and year.
The report aims to scrap the current school schedule in favor of a more rigorous one. The standard American school is now organized according to 50-minute class periods, six-hour days and 180-day school years.
That limited schedule makes it difficult for American students to compete internationally and should be "relegated to museums," the National Education Commission on Time and Learning said.
"What we are talking about here is nothing less than fundamentally changing the structure and rhythm of American life," Education Secretary Richard W. Riley said.
The commission noted that, as jobs of the 1990s demand more skills and a higher level of education, students are being asked to learn more in a time frame that has barely budged in a century.
The average time required in American high schools for the core subjects--English, math, science, history, geography, foreign languages and the arts--has shrunk to 41% of the day, the study found. That time has decreased as non-academic subjects, such as sex education, instruction on AIDS and counseling on drug and alcohol abuse, have been added.
One of the commission's findings was that Germany, France and Japan required at least twice the number of hours in core subjects. In Germany, for instance, the minimum high school requirement in the main subjects is 3,528 hours, contrasted with 1,460 hours for American students.
"We need to explode the old time metaphors, forget about the 50-minute class and the 180-day year," said Milton Goldberg, executive director of the commission, created in 1991 by Congress.
The nine-member commission--including educators, business leaders and politicians--declined to recommend the ideal length of the school year, and said local communities would have to make that decision according to their needs.
But it did state that 5 1/2 hours of each day should be devoted to main academic subjects, instead of three. Some schools in every community should be open year round and at night, and some students should be given longer to learn than others, who may not need it.