WHILE the mission of public schools has expanded beyond education to include social support and extracurricular activities, the academic schedule has changed little in more than a century.
Reclaiming the school day for academic instruction and escaping the time-bound traditions of education are vital steps in the school-reform process, says a report released today by the National Education Commission on Time and Learning.
The commission's report, titled ``Prisoners of Time,'' calls the fixed clock and calendar in American education a ``fundamental design flaw'' in desperate need of change. ``Time should serve children instead of children serving time,'' the report says.
The two-year commission found that holding American students to ``world-class standards,'' will require more time for classroom instruction. ``We have been asking the impossible of our students -
that they learn as much as their foreign peers while spending half as much time in core academic subjects,'' it states.
The commission compared the relationship between time and learning in Japan, Germany, and the United States and found that American students receive less than half the basic academic instruction that Japanese and German students are provided. On average, American students can earn a high school diploma if they spend only 41 percent of their school time on academics, says the report.
American students spend an average of three hours a day on ``core'' academics such as English, math, science, and history, the commission found. Their report recommends offering a minimum of 5.5 hours of academics every school day.
The nine-member commission also recommends lengthening the school day beyond the traditional six hours.
``If schools want to continue offering important activities outside the academic core, as well as serving as a hub for family and community services, they should keep school doors open longer each day and each year,'' says John Hodge Jones, superintendent of schools in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and chairman of the commission.
The typical school year in American public schools is 180 days. Eleven states allow school years of 175 days or less, and only one state requires more than 180 days.
``For over a decade, education reform advocates have been working feverishly to improve our schools,'' says Milton Goldberg, executive director of the commission. ``But ... if reform is to truly take hold, the six-hour, 180-day school year should be relegated to museums - an exhibit from our education past.''