The Detroit News ran a story this week about a bill being considered by Lansing that would mandate that schools start after Labor Day. The rational being that a longer summer would mean more tourism revenue. As explained by a representative of the Michigan Hotel, Motel & Resort Association, “it would provide a tremendous economic boost to our state at a time it is sorely needed, right now, a good deal of our tourist operations count on the month of August”.
To put this in perspective, take a look at some of the statistics pertaining to education worldwide, comparing the United States to other countries. Only about half of all adults in the U.S. are considered to be at least moderately literate (Sweden wins with 74.9%). 79% of U.S. 17 years old are receiving secondary education (there are 8 countries in Europe, Asia, and North America with over 90%). And when it comes to the percentage of the population in secondary education, the U.S. ranks 22nd (after Japan, Canada, Spain, France, Bahrain, Lithuania, Israel, and more). All that even though the U.S. spends the largest percentage of it’s GDP on education. (Here are some detailed U.S. stats). These numbers can be debated and interpreted in a variety of ways, and lots of people have lots of opinions about the education system here. And to be fair, indications are that things are getting better.
There is no Federal law dictating the numbers of days that kids must be in school. That is a State level decision, and all States but one (Minnesota, where it is a district level decision) have rules dictating a minimum numbers of days (or hours) of instruction per year. As per the U.S. Department of Education, the average is 180 days. To put that in perspective, a UNESCO study of 43 countries shows that 33 of them have school years longer than 180 days (some go as many as 220 days per year).
Or put differently, kids in the United States spend far less time in school than do kids in most other (studied) countries. I remember when I first moved here from England being amazed that summer vacations lasted almost 3 months (as opposed to 5-6 weeks back there), and horrified seeing kids walking home from school at 2:00 p.m.
Based on those statistics, despite spending more than any other country on education, we are not adequately educating the next generation. That’s terribly worrying, especially with the transitioning job market, and considering the work skills that will be required in the future. If losing jobs to other countries is a problem now, failing to adequately educate our children guarantees that the situation will be worse in the future.
But, hey. The economy in Michigan is bad, and tourism will save the day. A tough economy necessitates sacrifices, and what better sacrifice than the education of our children!