Monday, September 12, 2005

Length Of The School Day

A reader made this comment on another post:

Here's an education topic for you: In the states, do we need the school day to be as long as it is? Here in Germany where my kids attend the local schools, the 1st and 2nd graders get out at noon, and the following grades get out at 1. I think in the end German kids are as smart as US kids. It's nice to have the kids get out of school and have the whole afternoon to do homework and play. I love having my sone and daughter able to head to the playground for a pick up game of soccer, meet up with friends and play, or just ride their bikes around. It would be nice to see this system in the states.

So, do we need such a long school day stateside? Is it filled with needed education or is the US school day filled with some fluff that could be deleted?

There are several differences between German and US schools besides just the ones mentioned above. There's the tracking system, whereby students are identified for vocational track or college track. There's also the national curriculum.

But neither of those have an impact on the school day. So if we can agree that German students are learning as much as their American counterparts--and let's just focus on elementary school here--how is it they are doing it in so many fewer hours?

I'd venture, without a shred of evidence, that educational fads are significantly less effective in Germany than in the US. German teachers must laugh at the thought of not teaching grammar or not memorizing multiplication tables. There are no Margaret Moustafas in Germany, and if there are, they are less than ignored.

It would be most illuminating if the commenter quoted above would provide a daily schedule for his children's classroom, and we can compare it to my son's 4th grade classroom's schedule. That might be an interesting place to start with some real data points.


5wahls said...


I'll get the daily schedule for your review. Since we don't speak German, some things take a while to understand. I'll also talk to our German friends.

A few notes though, and very rough notes based on what we've learned during our year here - I am not an expert on the German system by any means. First, you're right about the tracking system. After 4th grade, the student can go one of 3 routes depending on the teachers' recommendations: an academic level, a mid level, or more of a "trade" school level for the less academic. This system seems to categorize children early, late bloomers might be hurt, but it has its merits. For the students who want to go into a trade, they come out of school at 18 knowing a trade. The end of their school career is spent between class time and learning the trade. Therefore, they step out ready to cut hair, work on a car, etc. This is a good system.

Second, I don't know how "national" the curriculum is. This year we had a problem buying my son's 2nd grade books (parents go to the local bookstore and buy the school materials: books, pens, sharpeners, etc., though there is no asking parents to supply Kleenex, zip lock bags, etc.). It seems the books requested by the teacher were not approved by our local state yet.

But my son has 4 50 minute or so class periods, with 2 recesses thrown in and a couple of 5-minute toilet breaks. I'll get the specifics, but primarily the class time is spent on math and German (cursive, printing, spelling, reading). They also have PE and religion (in the public school), but I'll get more info.

The German is taught using pure phonics. Your friend Ms. Moustafas would be appalled.

A couple of other notes about the schools: The summer is 5 weeks, and they have 3 two-week holidays during the year. There are no sports teams associated with the schools. Sports are played here on a club system. The high schools will not need multi million dollar parking lots as the kids can't drive until they are 18 (can drink at 16 though).


Darren said...

Definitely a different philosophy!

I'll email my son's teacher now and get her daily schedule.

Anonymous said...

Darren, bro, you're getting bitter. Why can't you just disagree with MM as fellow professionals, without throwing her name out as if she's the boogey man, responsible for all of education's ills?

'Cause I'm betting if I asked for any evidence to support your claim that there are no MM's in Germany, you're not going to have any. So what we have is a claim thrown out as fact, with zero supporting evidence... and what conclusion am I supposed to come to about the next thing you say, having stubbed my toe on this particular point?

I don't know her, don't know her cause, don't know your personal history with her... but geez, you're starting to sound like the Rushmeister, feeling free reign to throw out any allegation you want, facts and evidence be damned.

Just looking out for your blood pressure and nothing else.

Darren said...

1. I'm not your "bro".
2. I don't know Margaret Moustafa personally. I only know of her, through her efforts against the teaching of phonics. She's also a major player in the teaching of elementary teachers, and her whole language, anti-phonics, against-the-state-standards instruction is setting new teachers on a collision course with the state--and setting their students up for failure.
3. The Margaret Moustafa comment was part of the bigger paragraph about teaching phonics. I intended that sentence to be included under the penumbra of "I state without a shred of evidence...." I apologize if that wasn't clear enough for you.
4. You don't have to believe a word I say. Nor do you need to worry about my blood pressure; I'll state, without a shred of evidence, that it's lower than yours :-)