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Education in States and Nations: 1991

(ESN) Indicator 20: Time in formal instruction

Time spent in instruction can have a major influence on student achievement, since it reflects the access students have to learning opportunities. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the quality as well as the quantity of classroom instruction determines the educational worth of the time students spent in formal instruction. Time in formal instruction is measured here by the average hours of instruction per day, the average days of instruction per year, and the average hours of instruction per year at schools with an 8th grade in the United States and at lower secondary schools in other countries. Formal instruction is that interaction that takes place, generally in a classroom, between a teacher and a set group of students on a regularly scheduled basis.

  • Compared to other countries, U.S. schools had a relatively low number of instructional days (178) but a relatively high number of hours of instruction in each day (5.6). For the combination of both factors - the average hours of instruction per year (1,003) - U.S. schools exceeded most of the other countries represented here.

  • In the average number of hours spent per year on formal instruction, the range across countries extended wider than that across the states. Those ranges were defined by Hungary (658 hours per year) and China (1,276 hours per year) for the countries, and by Idaho and Massachusetts (936 hours per year) and Mississippi (1,092 hours per year).

  • In general, there were more hours of formal instruction per day in the U.S. states than in the other countries included here. More than half the countries had an average of less than 5 hours per day of formal instruction, but all states averaged more. Texas and France had the most hours per day of formal instruction, with an average of 6.2 hours.

  • For the most part, the U.S. states in 1990-1991 had shorter school years than did the other countries for which data are available. Thirteen out of 20 other countries maintained a longer academic year than any of the fifty states. The range across the countries was also much larger than that across the states. The country with the most days of formal schooling per year (China) employed 79 more days of instruction than did the country with the fewest (Portugal), while the difference between the states with the most (New York) and the fewest (Minnesota) days of instruction was only 8 days.


Table 19b Processes and Institutions Indicators Figure 20a
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