Why has U.S. academic success dropped? The answer may be on the playground


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  • terra nova Park City, UT
    Sept. 9, 2014 11:08 p.m.

    Recess sounds fine. But what about just doing some sort of break. I remember liking Art when I was a kid. If I didn't have to study, I'd work on building, sculpting, drawing, designing or otherwise doing something I wanted to do.

    Going outside was rarely what I wanted to do. Recess can mean, a recession, a walking back from, a change in what you were doing before.

    Public school was never really much of a challenge for me (private school was). Students can learn more in far less time if given the option of doing self-paced learning with discernible goals (one of which is getting done with the the stuff you didn't like, so you could do the stuff you DO like).

    Start with a paced model of 45/15, and then let the kid self-select as capacity and concentration increases. Forget structured PE. Big waste of time. All you need is a walk-around break.

  • Objectified Richfield, UT
    Sept. 2, 2014 11:16 a.m.

    @ GaryO:

    You forgot to mention that Finland, the country you want to emulate so badly, also has one of the highest suicide rates in the free-world. Something to think about before jumping in with both feet... the way you often seem prone to do. But anything to demean conservatives... even with false pretenses and using no common sense. That's been your agenda for quite some time, as witnessed by your continual comments.

  • GaryO Virginia Beach, VA
    Sept. 1, 2014 7:29 a.m.

    “If Finnish schools are so great, why isn't Finland a world leader?”

    What do you mean by “world leader?” It’s certainly no leader when it comes to forcing its military onto other nations, but it is a world leader when it comes to education, health care, social safety net, and quality of life.

    When Newsweek Magazine ranked nations in 2010, it ranked Finland number one.

    For a country with only about five and a half million people, it’s doing pretty well. That’s the about the population of Colorado.

  • Homer1 MIDVALE, UT
    Aug. 31, 2014 10:01 p.m.

    Honestly, why is it so hard to just let students have some recess. What is wrong with our society today that the powers that be have to "punish" the younger generation with harder and more uncomfortable learning conditions than they had when they were young? Districts like Canyons are obsessed with "instruction time" and trumpet their success at reducing recess time and ensuring that students get five more minutes of instruction time. I hear adults saying things like, yeah, well today we're competing with the rest of the world and we're falling behind". What? What are we so afraid of? Back in our day we had recess, art, PE, field day, kickball, etc. and we did just fine. Why is everyone so mean? And this obsession with Common Core standards and rigor is just continuing the problem. Please, stop saying that they're only standards. Along with the corporate driven assessment craze, they determine what is taught in the classroom, to the exclusion of anything else that isn't on the test.

  • Joe Schmoe Orem, UT
    Aug. 31, 2014 9:50 p.m.

    This is a complete fallacy. Our academic success hasn't dropped at all. I wish the media would stop pushing this agenda. Our kids are much further ahead at an earlier age than any of us were.

    The USA continues to be the dominant force of innovation and achievement.

    Our schools, particularly in Utah, are doing a fantastic job.

  • Hank Jr Draper, UT
    Aug. 31, 2014 1:05 p.m.

    If Finnish schools are so great, why isn't Finland a world leader?

  • Orem Parent Orem, UT
    Aug. 31, 2014 4:06 a.m.

    The worst thing that happened to our schools was the "block schedule". 90 minute classes for 12 year olds? Way too much time. Any school leader that adopts that schedule should have their head examined.

    Seems we stopped doing what is best for kids and started doing what is easiest for the schools to manage.

  • Sasha Pachev Provo, UT
    Aug. 30, 2014 9:18 p.m.

    We home school. Our school day consists maybe of a couple of hours a day total of parent-guided study with the kids doing their own learning the rest of the time. We are getting very good results, BYU full-tuition scholarship at the age of 15. I do not believe we are unique in aptitude, others can get our results. I am happy to share the secret. If you teach your child the right values, set an example, and give him the materials, he will learn on his own very very well. If he does not have the right values, it does not matter what techniques you try, it will be like trying to get an elephant, a bear, a monkey, and a donkey to make a good choir by finding a perfect seating arrangement.

  • Hank Jr Draper, UT
    Aug. 30, 2014 9:30 a.m.

    The reasons why our academic success has dropped isn't due to less recess, it's due to the lack of basics. Reading, writing and arithmetic have been compromised by the socialist agenda of everyone gets passing grades.
    My Japanese grand daughter recently won a swimming event and proclaimed to me over Skype "I finished number one, everyone else finished number zero". She is also proficient in Japanese and English and knows every species of dinosaur by the Latin names. This all coming from a four year old girl.

  • byronbca Salt Lake City, UT
    Aug. 29, 2014 11:29 p.m.

    This makes so much sense, it's no secret that our elementary and prep schools are terrible but we do have the best colleges in the world and our colleges function like this too in way, 45 minutes to an hour and then at least a 15 minute break.

    If something like this could make a difference without spending any more money why not give it a try?

  • sthomaslewis Corvallis, OR
    Aug. 29, 2014 11:02 a.m.

    Most companies allow for more breaks during training classes for adults than schools allow children.

  • scwoz gambier, oh
    Aug. 28, 2014 5:41 a.m.

    Play grounds are where lkids learn to enter society and learn to integrate into a communal society. Learn the rules of success and of failure. Gotta have it.

  • jct Salt Lake City, UT
    Aug. 28, 2014 3:46 a.m.

    Hey Gary, Finland is a homogeneous country with a small population, just like we were a few decades ago. We also were number one in education in those days. Finland has worked hard to keep their IQ high. The U.S is more like Brazil, For an multicultural country this is as good as you can expect.

  • GaryO Virginia Beach, VA
    Aug. 26, 2014 6:36 p.m.

    Hey Howard Beal -

    "We need to emulate Finland in regards to education in every way imaginable. End of story..."

    But Finland is a socialist country.

    It's superlative educational system requires high taxes . . . And real, red-blooded, Rush-Limbaugh-worshiping American "Conservatives" will NOT stand for that.

  • GaryO Virginia Beach, VA
    Aug. 26, 2014 6:29 p.m.

    The Finnish school system is one of the best, if not THE best in the world.

    In 2010, Newsweek Magazine came out with its list of the best countries in the world, and Finland topped the list . . . And it wasn't because of its ridiculously cold winters.

    It was basically because of its government, hated by American "Conservatives" because of demanding taxes, but one that yielded top results in education, health, housing, and quality of life for the citizens of Finland.

    When the poorest of the poor in Finland have better educational opportunities, health care, and a better life all around then upper middle class Americans, it makes sense to identify best practices there and emulate them.

    That's going to be a HARD SELL in "Conservative" states though . . . Because as Anne Coulter insists, American exceptionalism should be treasured . . .

    Compared to Finland though, Americans are exceptionally badly educated and have an exceptionally poor quality of life for being such a rich nation.

    But that's just fine with American "Conservatives," because American exceptionalism is the be all and end all.

  • Spellman789 Syracuse, UT
    Aug. 26, 2014 4:41 p.m.

    I don't know. High ACT scores only indicate that children can test well. Some very smart educated people do not test well. What about other aspects of development and learning such as creativity, problem solving, group interaction, etc. Some things you can't teach in a classroom, but need to be learned by children interacting in a variety of positive ways with other children, their peers, outside a classroom. High ACT scores are great, but not the whole picture.

  • Bill McGee Alpine, UT
    Aug. 26, 2014 4:39 p.m.

    Imagine, using science as a basis for the decisions we make about things like education! Yes, kids need regular breaks. The science is clear that these kids do better. Likewise for a later starting time for high school. School districts that have moved high school start times from 7:30 to 8:30 or 9:00 have seen dramatic jumps in attendance, drops in discipline problems and depression, better grades, fewer automobile accidents, and an average of ~50 points increase in SAT scores.

  • TheProudDuck Newport Beach, CA
    Aug. 26, 2014 12:23 p.m.

    Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.

    The United States public education system is based on the Prussian model of turning out obedient subjects. The trend towards longer, more intensive kindergarten, early-starting days, and longer hours, for whatever marginal benefit it ekes out in added instructional time, loses far more by teaching students to hate school and learning.

    Ease students into it. Boil the frog slowly.

  • Hunam Layton, UT
    Aug. 26, 2014 7:35 a.m.

    Not all children are the same. Some require a lot of breaks, others can concentrate and want concentrated focus on learning for longer periods of time. Unfortunately one major problem our schools have is that they require the same for everyone. I would prefer to see recesses be tailored to the child's interest and those that want free and open social play be given that, while others who want something more structured and less dependent upon social engagement be given a more focused break or team activity. But that's silly dreaming.

    Also... the common core is just a set of education standards, how a school implements or teaches to those standards is entirely up to the states and local boards to determine. If you can't teach to the Common Core standards your school has a lot of problems that won't be solved by any amount of recess breaks.

    It doesn't matter if you like them or not, the rest of the world is teaching to standards much more rigorous. The only edge any of us have in this society is our ability to innovate, learn and apply that learning.

  • Paul in MD Montgomery Village, MD
    Aug. 26, 2014 7:28 a.m.

    I was raised in the 60s and 70s. Elementary school had some recess. High school was 8 periods a day, 41 minutes long each, with 6 minutes between class to get to the next class. We started as early as 7:10. Graduation rate was high, and most kids went to college.

    I read a study in college that said study should be done in 50 minute blocks with 10 minute breaks between. I found I was most successful studying when I applied this.

    Kids are being short-changed by the emphasis on eliminating everything not directly testable. Activities like art, music, PE and recess are immensely valuable, not only giving young children outlets to "get the wiggles out" but giving their minds a break in order to refresh and refocus.

    Our middle school assigns kids to 8 classes, but they attend them 4 classes a day, about 90 minutes per class. It's too long and very stressful. Two of my kids have had very difficult experiences with this schedule, while thriving in other schedules.

    It's time to put education decisions back in the hands of people with kids' best interests at heart, not their own.

  • Long Lost America Salt Lake City, UT
    Aug. 23, 2014 5:10 p.m.

    Be careful of articles that try to mix 99% fact with a subtle hidden political agenda that may actually stigmatize the concept that children need a variety of activities to address all areas of the brain - YES, including play and recess - that throw out false alarms against anything other than basic core academics. One example being a very influential state senator who is preaching the virtues of a school district that replaced their home economics and industrial arts facilities with a computer lab, and praising the virtues of reinventing facilities of those subjects "kids don't want to take anyway."
    There are always extreme interpretations which are politically misused from this type of article which actually can do more harm than good

  • Long Lost America Salt Lake City, UT
    Aug. 23, 2014 5:10 p.m.

    "Whole Child" is another phrase we see has been abused by politically corrupt forces of education reform PR, similar to phrases such as "Do it for the children."
    A true representation of the whole child debate would not question the importance of developing the whole child, including things like adequate instruction in things like music and industrial arts.
    The way this phrase is being stigmatized in this article without any explanation as to why it is bad is very dangerous.

  • Nan BW ELder, CO
    Aug. 22, 2014 8:57 p.m.

    When I taught school, way back in the last century, we insisted that the children have recess. Some tried to "stay in" and there are times this is necessary, but not for academic purposes. Teaching children to think is also essential, and often this is achieved with various activities that don't appear to be academics. Parents who give their children opportunities to plan and cook meals, make furniture, help budget, write stories and letters, and other diversions to numerous to mention are giving children a huge boost. Teachers can do these activities too, but much of learning should happen at home.

  • FanOfTheSith Vernal, UT
    Aug. 22, 2014 7:36 p.m.

    It may look like a losing battle in fighting the big government but don't quit making your voices heard and then do fun things with your kids at home. Don't let them sit at home daily, watching TV or playing computer games.

  • Downtime Saint George, UT
    Aug. 22, 2014 3:30 p.m.


    Great. The kids can pass a test. But they have no critical thinking skills; no problem solving skills; and no cooperative team building skills-all things for which employers are clamoring. The playground isn't the only place those skills can be learned, but it's a better place than a classroom micromanaged by legislators whose only concern is the next election cycle.

  • Copacetic Logan, UT
    Aug. 22, 2014 8:57 a.m.

    @ Fred44:

    Before you start criticizing the state legislature for how they are handling education within Utah, please keep in mind that just this week it was announced that Utah students recently tested highest in the nation for ACT scores. And what's even more impressive is that that was accomplished with a spending-per-pupil budget that is below the national average.
    Kudos to everyone involved for obtaining such impressive results.

  • Fred44 Salt Lake City, Utah
    Aug. 21, 2014 9:45 p.m.

    But Howard if we used the Finnish system and empowered teachers to teach, what the Utah State legislature have to focus on for 45 days if they couldn't micromanage education?

  • Davycrewcut Sandy, UT
    Aug. 19, 2014 11:05 a.m.

    Let ME be clear. First, kids do need breaks. Adults need breaks, kids need them even more. I agree that the elementary school day is too full of academics. When I was a principal, I even had primary grade teachers who cut out morning or afternoon recess so they could get in more reading or math time. I fought it then, I will continue to fight it how. I also agree that NCLB put unrealistic expectations on both teachers and students and led to a great deal of teaching to the test. That kind of teaching still exists. However, Common Core does NOT instigate teaching to the test. Common Core is a set of standards. Nothing more, nothing less. It is the high stakes that are placed on test results by legislative efforts like NCLB and grading schools that lead to teaching to the test. Blame legislators for that, not the standards.

  • Howard Beal Provo, UT
    Aug. 12, 2014 5:14 p.m.

    We need to emulate Finland in regards to education in every way imaginable. End of story...

  • ? SLC, UT
    Aug. 11, 2014 7:31 p.m.

    Makes sense to me. If a school block is about 6 hours long with 15 minute breaks near the end of each hour, the kids by the end of the day have about an hour and a half of some kind of exercise. Let the kids play. Gives the teachers a chance to reset for the next hour, too. In the end, it's good for everybody.

  • Lentzeh South Salt Lake, UT
    Aug. 11, 2014 8:29 a.m.

    This article is very consistent with my extensive research about the most effecting learning skills and strategies for my "Own Best Teacher" program. Increasing the "rigor of education standards" does nothing to ensure students will learn. In fact, teaching to the test, which both NCLB and CC instigate, actually harms the learning process as it throws the child into academic challenges they have not been prepared to absorb. Fear, anxiety, and a host of other symptoms block the ability of the child to learn effectively. Play and exercise are both important elements in developing healthy and balanced individuals who can learn more efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, centralized control over education, which ignores these facts, has been increasing. Teacher and parental control over the child's education have increasingly been compromised and stripped away. If we want our children to be successful, we need to reverse directions. We need to give our children better tools and strategies to have a happy and fulfilled life, including appropriate opportunities for play and exercise.

    Aug. 10, 2014 7:21 p.m.

    Yes! A thousand times yes! My wife has ADD. My 6y.o. son exhibits classic symptoms of ADHD, but as he was only six during kindergarten we could not have him officially tested or force the teacher to provide the accomidations he needed. As a result, on the days he was the most fidgety and movement prone, she would hold him in from recess - the one chance he had to work out some of his extra energy! And she would be completely exasperated by his worsening behavior at the end of the day. I am terrified that my very bright little boy is going to quickly begin hating school and then learning, and that is something that should never happen.

  • Chuck E. Racer Lehi, UT
    Aug. 10, 2014 7:03 p.m.

    This article is absolutely true, as I have seen over my 32 years of teaching elementary school. NCLB and Common Core are decimating recess, P.E., History, and the arts in education. We would be better off going back to the education of the 80's.