Longer school day works — sometimes

A longer school day is helping students in Boston charter schools, but doing little for other Massachusetts students.  Michael Jonas  looks at the conflicting studies in CommonWealth,

Last week, the Boston Foundation released a areport (pdf) suggesting one of the main reasons why Boston charter school students outperformed their peers at district schools in a 2009 study (pdf)  is their longer school day.  Boston charters are in session for an average of 378 more hours per year than district schools, the equivalent of an additional 62 traditional school days.

Many believe that schools with disadvantaged students need more time to teach. A four-year pilot program provides an extra $1,300 per student to lengthen school days by 25 to 30 percent at 22 Massachusetts schools.  But a new education department study (pdf) comparing Extended Learning Time schools to matched comparison schools finds no differences, except for fifth-grade science scores.

The idea behind longer school days is to beef up core academic studies while still having time for arts and other so-called “enrichment” activities. The comparison schools, however, may have simply decided to squeeze out other subjects in favor of more core academic time, as they reported spending as much or nearly as much time on English and math instruction as did ELT schools.  Such “ELT-like practices,” write the study authors, could have diluted any observed effect of longer school days.

Some ELT schools showed strong gains, such as the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown, where low-income students now outperform the state average. It’s not just having more time, apparently, It’s knowing what to do with it.

Further research will try to examine why some schools are improving with more time. Meanwhile, state education officials are warning that schools will get more grants only if they show they’re getting results.

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