Why Do Children Attend School for 180 Days Each Year? - Education Reimagined (2023)

Education Reimagined partnered with 180 Studio to continue our video series exploring the “Why” of traditional education. The series digs into why we narrowly group children by age, promote memorization over deeper learning, use grade levels as indicators of “moving up,” and confine learning to four-walled classrooms. Complementing each video, our Vice President, Dr. Ulcca Joshi Hansen, provides the research and history around the “why” of America’s education traditions and invites all of us to explore the possibility of something new.

Summer vacation is an iconic theme in classic American films featuring children and teenagers. After the slog of attending school for 9-10 months, summer vacation is a time for young people to engage in the adventure, fun, and learning that happens when adults leave them to their own devices.

Have you ever wondered how it ended up this way?

Why do our children attend 180 days of school each year? Why is each academic year separated by a long summer break that researchers now worry leads to “learning loss”? There are many theories, but history doesn’t bear any of them out. In fact, other than a lack of air conditioning, history tells us there isn’t a good reason at all for this schedule. So, why don’t we change it?

How did we land on 180 days?

In the early days of American public education, schools ran like libraries—free classes were held, and children only attended when it was convenient. Responsibilities at home and on the farm came first; school came second. As industrialization and the number of factories increased, children were seen as a cheap and effective form of labor—pushing school even further down the priority list. For all of these reasons, in 1890, the average child went to school only about 86 days a year.

If it wasn’t for education reformer Horace Mann and increased pressure from teachers, parents, and church groups to restrict child labor, public education may have remained tertiary for decades to come. In 1852, Mann enacted a compulsory school attendance law in Massachusetts, and by 1918, the rest of the country had followed suit—increasing average attendance to 120 days. Shockingly enough, it took until 1938 for Congress to pass the Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA) that officially fixed the minimum working age at 16 for most professions.

(Video) The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined | Salman Khan | Talks at Google

As American labor laws changed and child labor was outlawed, children were freed up to attend school more regularly. By 1974, average school attendance was up to 160 days, and over the years, different states have come to mandate between 170 and 185 days of school per year.

The motivations behind this 180-day target, and compulsory education more broadly, is up for debate. Horace Mann claimed, “Education…beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of conditions of men—the balance wheel of the social machinery…It does better than to disarm the poor of their hostility toward the rich; it prevents being poor.” Although Mann seems to express accessible education for the masses as a moral imperative, the historical record shows less heroic reasonings—including a desire to assimilate immigrant populations and young people generally into the dominant US culture.

Looking beyond Mann’s unattractive motivations, more concrete reasons to question our focus on the number of days kids attend school are grounded in what we are learning about human development and the science of learning.

What does science tell us about our 180-day tradition?

Regardless of seat-time, many countries (e.g. Germany and Finland) outperform the US on academic performance and overall youth health and wellbeing. Rather than seat time, the most striking difference seems to be the structure of schooling itself.

German students attend school for 240 days each year, but academic work only occurs in the mornings. After lunch, there are sports, clubs, and activities such as art and music that American schools consider to be either extra-curricular or specials; the latter have routinely been cut over the last decade to spend more time on core academics. In Germany, older kids can choose between a more traditional academic track or a skilled trade track. That gives kids who learn better by “doing” a chance to learn through apprenticeships.

By contrast, Finland, like the US, has about 190 days of schooling each year. But in Finland, kids don’t even start school until they are seven years old.

Why? Because Finland organizes its education system around principles that the science of development and learning now bear out: young children don’t learn best by sitting in school—they learn by playing and being in the world. To wit, even when they do start attending formal school, Finnish students don’t arrive until 9am and finish by 3pm, with more recess and break-time built into those six hours than you will find in a conventional learning environment in the US.

(Video) After Words: "The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined"

Even if our only interest was in improving academic outcomes, it is becoming clear that a child’s overall well-being is a prerequisite in doing so. And, if the number of hours and days kids spend in school is not the driving factor in either well-being or academic performance, then it seems like a variable we ought to consider as a much lower priority to the overall transformation of education.

Learning critical skills and dispositions doesn’t happen in classrooms

This much we know: the current education system was built on a set of erroneous assumptions about how and where learning could happen best and most efficiently.

Without the science to guide us, we had to rely on “gut feelings.”

Young people were seen as empty vessels that needed to be filled with the knowledge they needed for life. Adults had this knowledge. So, the system was designed to efficiently allow adults to transfer knowledge to young people. Whether or not this has actually been happening is questionable and increasingly irrelevant because we know that transferring knowledge can longer be the goal of our education system.

By some estimates, the amount of knowledge in the world doubles every 12 months. And, with advances in technology and artificial intelligence (AI), that rate is expected to increase to doubling every 12 hours. Moreover, with AI able to capture, store, sort, and analyze information far more efficiently than human beings, knowing things is no longer human beings’ competitive advantage.

Report after report—from the World Bank, McKinsey, and governments around the world—is concluding the same thing. To thrive in a technologically-advanced future, human beings need to develop a new set of skills and dispositions. They need to know themselves and have a sense of how they want to engage in the world.

None of these things are developed sitting in classrooms listening to teachers. The growing shift in public education towards project-based and more active learning approaches shows that we know this.

(Video) 180 Ask Why Episode 5: CARNEGIE UNITS

Young people are most likely to develop skills like problem-solving, collaboration, empathy, and adaptability when they are engaged with complex, real-world challenges.

They are most likely to develop a sense of community, belonging, and identity when they are immersed in their communities.

And, they are most likely to develop a sense of who they are—their strengths, challenges, and aspirations—when they have a chance to experience the richness and possibilities that the world actually holds.

Why, then, are we making up projects, scenarios, and case studies for young people to engage with inside the walls of a school? Let’s allow them to spend time in the world—in real-life contexts where they can attain knowledge, develop skills, and cultivate dispositions that will act as their foundation to lifelong learning.

Focusing on days, not learning, prevents us from thinking differently

We keep saying we want to help develop lifelong learners. Yet, by focusing on the number of days students spend in school, we reinforce the idea that learning only happens in school.

If we care about learning, then let’s ask ourselves: Where and when does learning happen? Learning happens everywhere, all the time. The trick is to be conscious about the learning that is happening.

My sons play sports. They have learned how to be responsible, how to keep track of time so they get to practice on time, how to listen and take feedback from coaches, and how to communicate effectively with their teammates.

(Video) Sir Ken Robinson: "Reimagine Learning that Can Change the World" - Reimagine Education

Over the holidays, my family went to a holiday market that featured dozens of businesses set up by young entrepreneurs. Each entrepreneur had attended a summer camp at the Young Americans Bank in Denver where they learned how to turn a hobby into a business proposal by analyzing their local market. They developed business plans, applied for and took out small loans, and now run their own businesses (in some cases with partners). A number of them donate some of their profits to local charities because they learned about corporate social responsibility.

In rural Colorado, hundreds of young people are involved in 4-H and raising animals to compete in shows. They learn about business, biology, budgeting, and organization.

In our current education system, none of this “counts” toward academic progress. We need to seriously invest time in figuring out new systems, structures, and policies that allow young people to demonstrate and get credit for everything they are learning, in all the places they are learning.

Society cares that people can do things, not where and how they learned them.

Imagine what would be possible if the focus of our education system was on learning, rather than on the number of days in the school year.

Ulcca Joshi Hansen

As the Vice President of Partnerships and Research, Dr. Joshi Hansen will be helping build the ecosystem of partners needed to ensure educators pioneering learner-centered learning are supported in their efforts. Regardless of her role, Ulcca is guided by the principle of promoting and supporting learner-centered learning experiences that celebrate and maximize the unique potential of every child.

(Video) Salman Khan - Khan Academy: Education Reimagined


Why do we have longer school days? ›

An expanded school schedule engages students more fully, and children learn better in a more stimulating environment. By reducing the pressure on the system to cram math and reading and science into too few hours, the new school day opens up the schedule for subjects that students enjoy and teachers like to teach.

Has school always been 180 days? ›

Prior to 1890, students in major urban areas were in school for 11 months a year. But by 1900, the more popular 180 day, 9-month calendar had been firmly established.

What are the benefits of shorter school days? ›

Shorter school days allow for a more flexible schedule, which is a major benefit for our students. Some students need to work part-time jobs to support themselves or their families – a shorter school day with us allows for the balance of work and school.

Why school breaks should be longer? ›

Helps Them Learn Better

Regular breaks help them stay focused when they are on the task. Recess helps kids relax. Physical activity releases endorphins in the brain that helps kids reduce anxiety. They can take a break from a difficult lesson and revisit the concept after clearing their minds on the playground.

Why should school days not be shortened? ›

Our children could end up losing large amounts of classroom learning - and then they would need even more private lessons to close the education gap. There is no possible way to reduce the day by even one hour without a negative effect on how much and how well our children learn.

Why is 100 days of school a thing? ›

The 100th day of school is an exciting milestone for every elementary classroom. It signifies both the halfway point of the year and an important time for setting new goals and realigning a fresh outlook.

What US state has the longest school days? ›

The state with the most required school days is Kansas for grades 1–11, and the states with the next most required school days are Illinois and North Carolina. On the other hand, the states with the fewest required school days are Colorado and Kentucky.

How many days of school are mandatory in the US? ›

The average days in the school year in the United States will vary by state, but the majority of states (29 to be exact) require 180 school days.

Which state has the shortest school year? ›

In Oregon, the average is about 165 instructional days. * That's among the lowest in the country. Parents say they're not surprised by the low number of instructional days in Oregon. Mom Heidi Tretheway, whose child used to attend North Clackamas schools, said it even became joke among parents.

What are the cons of longer school days? ›

The Disadvantages of Longer School Days
  • Attention Deficit and Fatigue. Longer school days could result in attention deficit and fatigue, making the extra class time ineffective. ...
  • No Improved Scores. Reports show that more time spent in school doesn't necessarily result in higher test scores. ...
  • Teachers. ...
  • Funding.

Does shorter school days improve mental health? ›

For example, shorter school days would provide more time to do homework. A study done by researchers at Stanford shows that 56% of the students they interviewed claim homework is a main source of stress. With more time to do homework, teens would experience less stress. It would also provide more time to socialize.

What states have 4 day school weeks? ›

But the trend isn't taking hold in California. Only two tiny, remote California school districts, Leggett Valley Unified in Mendocino County and Big Sur Unified in Monterey County, have shortened the week for students.

Why 3 day weekends are good for students? ›

Summary: A three-day weekend is good for our health, a new study reports. An extra day of rest improves sleep duration, increases physical activity, and was associated with overall healthier behaviors.

Should the school year be year-round? ›

Yes, Schools Should Be Year-Round

They get to enjoy time off in every season. Year-round schools allow families to plan vacations at times other than summer. Students in year-round schools are less likely to have to miss school for a trip that isn't in the summer. Frequent breaks are good for students.

Does longer recess improve grades? ›

Recess is Essential for School Success

When children participate in unstructured playtime, they can burn off energy and pay attention more in the classroom. This helps improve grades and behavior and allows children to learn soft skills such as teamwork and leadership.

Does longer school days cause stress? ›

More hours in the school day could possibly increase stress and pressure on the students due to increased workload and lack of time outside of class to complete work. These factors combined could affect their mental health in a negative way.

Why 4 day school weeks are bad for students? ›

It offers more flexibility for educators and families, but studies have shown that students on four-day schedules tend to have fewer classroom hours and score lower on tests in subjects such as English and math.

Why should school be 5 days a week instead of 4? ›

Even if they might not be able to fully articulate their emotions, children share our sentiments towards inconsistency. Coming to school five days per week provides the best consistency and routine for children, which we believe is fundamental to strong development at this early, formative age.

Who has the longest school days? ›

Brazilian students are required to spend 200 days at school, according to information from the National Education Bases and Guidelines Law of Brazilian Education, with July off and typically some time out of school for Carnival and the government-mandated school holiday, Recesso Escolar, which happens at the end of the ...

Why is 5 days of school good? ›

Some students said they feel less stressed with the 4-day week. Others said it allows more time for them to get their homework done. Additionally, a parent said that the three-day weekend allows her kid to make money because they have an extra day to work. More time to complete projects and to study.

How long was a school day 100 years ago? ›

The school year was shorter

However, while the school year was 162 days, the average pupil only attended 122 days. Today's school year averages 180 days, more than long enough for kids in overheated classrooms in June, but not nearly as long as the school year in many foreign countries.

What country starts school at 10am? ›

In 2013, a London academy has become the first school in Britain to introduce a 10am start after research showed that teenagers do not fully wake up until mid-morning.

How long is a normal school day in America? ›

In the U.S., a typical day of high school starts at about 7:30 a.m. and ends around 3:00 p.m., Monday to Friday. Extracurricular activities are typically scheduled in the afternoons and early evenings during the school week; however, some extracurricular activities may also be scheduled on weekends.

How many hours is 180 school days? ›

180 days Half-day K ~ 450 hours Full-day K ~ 900 hours Grades 1-12 ~ 900 hours 4 hours Districts may count up to 7 hours per school day towards the total required for the year.

At what age is school not mandatory in the US? ›

Education is mandatory until age 16 (18 in some states). In the U.S., ordinal numbers (e.g., first grade) are used for identifying grades. Typical ages and grade groupings in contemporary, public, and private schools may be found through the U.S. Department of Education.

What year did school become mandatory in the US? ›

Massachusetts passed the first compulsory school laws in 1852. New York followed the next year, and by 1918, all American children were required to attend at least elementary school. Next came the movement to create equal schooling for all American children, no matter what their race.

What state starts school the earliest in the year? ›

What State Has the Earliest School Start Times? For both middle school start times and high school start times, Louisiana is the earliest state, at 7:37 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. respectively.

What school year is the easiest? ›

Going into high school, many students hear that freshman year is the “easiest” year. Some think that colleges don't consider it as much as they do one's sophomore, junior, and senior years. While this is typically true, it doesn't mean that students should entirely dismiss the importance of their freshman year.

What state is the lowest for education? ›

The Least Educated States
  • West Virginia is the least educated U.S. state, with an overall score of 23.15. ...
  • Mississippi has a score of 25.35. ...
  • Louisiana holds the third-place spot for the least educated states. ...
  • Arkansas's score is 31.00 out of 100. ...
  • Alabama is the country's fifth-least educated state.

What are the school hours in China? ›

The school days usually last a whole day (from around 8:00 until 17:00) with 45-minutes-long classes, with a little more flexible schedules in more rural areas. In China's metropolises, where lunch breaks are shorter, kids might finish school around 15:00 as well.

Are longer school years better? ›

Some studies have been done that show that longer instruction time can improve achievement, but those results depend on things like classroom environment, quality of instruction, student prior knowledge and ability. This means that a longer day does not necessarily correlate with higher achievement.

Why is it so hard to go to school? ›

Some children have severe separation anxiety and can't tolerate being apart from their parents. Other anxiety-related problems that motivate children and teens to avoid going to school include social anxiety, phobias (such as of illness or germs) and obsessive-compulsive disorder, along with depression.

Why does school cause stress? ›

Concerns about not having enough friends, not being in the same class as friends, not being able to keep up with friends in one particular area or another, interpersonal conflicts, and peer pressure are a few of the very common ways kids can be stressed by their social lives at school.

Should school days be longer pros and cons? ›

Pros vs. Cons of Extended School Days
  • Pro: More Time for Learning. Lengthening the school day will give teachers more time to spend with students, to focus on trouble areas and more difficult material. ...
  • Con: More Time Doesn't Mean More Learning. ...
  • Pro: More Time for Other Subjects. ...
  • Con: Less Time for Outside Interests.

Does a 4 day school week improve sleep? ›

It did seem to change some sleep patterns, with four-day elementary students reporting that they got more sleep and four-day secondary students saying that they felt much less tired than their counterparts in five-day systems.

Why should students get mental days off from school? ›

Mental health days are important because they give kids time at home to recharge. Whether your child is struggling with a mental health challenge or just a rough week, a day off to recuperate can reduce stress and help them get back on track.

What are the pros and cons of 4 day school weeks? ›

What are the Pros and Cons of 4-Day School Weeks?
  • Pros of the 4-day School Week.
  • Adds flexibility to teacher's schedules. ...
  • Increases student attendance. ...
  • School districts save money. ...
  • Easier to recruit employees. ...
  • Cons of the 4-Day School Week.
  • A potential decline in academic performance for vulnerable groups.
Oct 17, 2019

Why should school only be 4 days a week? ›

Better Teacher and Student Morale

The four-day format provides opportunities for an extra work day at an after-school job, engaging in volunteer activities or pursuing additional educational goals. Also, students who are athletes don't miss as much class and have less work to make up when events occur on a day off.

Why is a 4 day school week beneficial? ›

A shorter week makes it easier to staff schools, a particularly challenging task for rural schools, due to their geographic isolation and lower salaries. Proponents of the four-day week also say a shorter workweek could get teachers to reconsider leaving their job, or bring retirees back into the classroom.

What are the cons of a 4 day school week? ›


Why do schools give weekend homework? ›

They mostly assign it as extra practice or make-up work. According to Learning Lift Off, one huge reason for teachers giving weekend homework is to complete their lesson plans. Many teachers simply don't have enough class time in order to complete their assigned plans and have no choice but to assign weekend homework.

Why are longer weekends better? ›

Long weekends provide ample opportunity for people to relax their sleep routines, sleep in later and catch up on lost sleep. In addition, having three mornings a week where you don't have to set your alarm and get up early is a great stress reducer.

Why are people against year-round school? ›

Many school districts argue that maintaining buildings year round would be more expensive. In some areas, air conditioning facilities during hot summer months would be costly. Summer breaks also provide adequate time to conduct lengthy maintenance projects on school buildings.

What are cons of year-round school? ›

The Debate Over Year-Round School
The Pros and Cons of Year-Round School
Reduces learning loss over summer breakCosts to implement the new schedule
No need for summer breakHigher operating costs in the summer
Evenly distributed breaks for vacationsTeens could not have summer jobs
3 more rows
Nov 10, 2022

Does year-round school improve learning? ›

Year-round schedules don't improve test scores

In California, where nearly a thousand schools switched calendars between 1998 and 2005, schools that switched to a year-round calendar did not see test scores rise, and schools that switched back to a traditional calendar did not see scores fall.

Why school days should be longer? ›

An expanded school schedule engages students more fully, and children learn better in a more stimulating environment. By reducing the pressure on the system to cram math and reading and science into too few hours, the new school day opens up the schedule for subjects that students enjoy and teachers like to teach.

What are three reasons why recess should be longer? ›

Increasing their level of physical activity. Improving their memory, attention, and concentration. Helping them stay on-task in the classroom. Reducing disruptive behavior in the classroom.

Why is a 4 day school week better? ›

Indeed, in the 12 rural school districts we visited, school administrators, teachers, students, and parents reported that the shorter week did indeed improve school morale. Teachers reported feeling less burned out and missing fewer instructional days due to illness or exhaustion.

What are the negative effects of a 4-day school week? ›


What are the pros and cons of 4-day school weeks? ›

What are the Pros and Cons of 4-Day School Weeks?
  • Pros of the 4-day School Week.
  • Adds flexibility to teacher's schedules. ...
  • Increases student attendance. ...
  • School districts save money. ...
  • Easier to recruit employees. ...
  • Cons of the 4-Day School Week.
  • A potential decline in academic performance for vulnerable groups.
Oct 17, 2019

Does 4-day school week improve mental health? ›

Rand.org found a 4-day week had other positive effects on: Reduced parental stress. Improved student mental health. Improved school climate.

What state has the least amount of school days? ›

What State Has the Fewest Required School Days? Besides the states that do not have a required minimum number of school days each year, Colorado has the fewest required school days in the United States, at 160.

Do Japanese students go to school 6 days a week? ›

The school year in Japan begins in April and classes are held from Monday to either Friday or Saturday, depending on the school. The school year consists of two or three terms, which are separated by short holidays in spring and winter, and a six-week-long summer break.

Why is Montessori 5 days a week? ›

The primary goal of Montessori involves creating a culture of consistency, order, and independence. Most Montessori school schedules run five days a week because the children have little or no sense of time. When they are working on a task, they are very excited to come back the next day to work on it some more.

Why 5 days of school is better? ›

Some students said they feel less stressed with the 4-day week. Others said it allows more time for them to get their homework done. Additionally, a parent said that the three-day weekend allows her kid to make money because they have an extra day to work. More time to complete projects and to study.

Why should schools have Friday off? ›

Without schools on Fridays, students could study what they want when they want. GPAs will increase with a well-balanced education. There will be less failing classes as an overall. Usually teachers provide students with a lot of schoolwork that can be completed upon thorough studying.

Where is the shortest school day? ›

Finland School Hours

Typically, the Finnish school day starts anywhere from 9 to 9:45 a.m., and students typically spend only about five hours a day in the classroom. What's more, Finnish students typically have little to no homework.

How long is the average American school day? ›

Not including after-school programs, in normal times most American children spend about six hours per day in school – fewer in lower grades and more in higher ones.


1. The Great School Rethink: Reimagining K–12 Education After the Pandemic | LIVE STREAM
(American Enterprise Institute)
2. Reimagine Education: School Leaders Reaction and Discussion
(Minneapolis Foundation)
3. Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined Part II: Day 1 - Session 2
(WISE Channel)
4. Kelly Young, President of Education Reimagined
(education explained)
5. Education Reimagined | Sal Khan | Talks at Google
(Talks at Google)
6. Guest Barb V: Teacher online certification program
(Homeschooling during the crisis)


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