Extend the school day, but do it right

Extend the school day to make time for academics and foreign languages, sports, music, drama, debate and other enriching activities, writes Sehba Ali, chief academic officer for KIPP’s Bay Area schools, in Newsweek.

I met the dynamic Ali when she was recruiting students for KIPP Heartwood Academy, a public charter school in San Jose that ranks in the top 10 percent of California schools, despite its low-income, minority enrollment. KIPP’s school day typically goes from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., along with a mandatory three-week summer-school program, Ali notes.

But a long school day that’s all math and reading will burn out students, Ali warns. Teacher burn-out also is a risk.

At KIPP, we build in time during the day for teachers to meet with colleagues in the same grade or subject, enabling them to share lesson plans and coordinate instruction. This not only saves time for teachers but also helps ensure that expectations for both behavior and academics are consistent in every classroom. My school’s teacher-retention rate isn’t perfect, but while recent studies show that more than half of educators leave in the first five years, we keep 82 percent annually.

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have called for a longer school day and year. Hundreds of schools are changing their schedules to provide more learning time for students. But I think Ali is right: More time for the same, old teaching is more likely to exhaust than enlighten. And it’s important to design school schedules that work for teachers who aren’t hyperactive 23-year-olds with no personal lives.

About Joanne


  1. School is already deadly dull for many kids because NCLB/RttT curriculum narrowing. It’s all bad math and bad reading instruction. One reading specialist in my district told me that she has kids read the same story eight times, performing different operations on it each time. This mind-numbing pedagogy is the current orthodoxy among principals and many teachers: drill literacy skills for hours each day to boost the STAR English/Language Arts scores. Until the tests go –or change radically –a longer school day will just mean more of this inanity. Kids’ behavior will worsen to the point of revolt. Teachers will be even more worn down, and lessons will be even less well planned as the ratio of managing-a-classroom time vs. prep time changes for the worse. Ali is right that a diversified curriculum would make a longer day more fruitful, but I’m dubious that our principals and supes are enlightened enough to go this way.

    I groan every time I hear Obama suggest longer school days. Quality before quantity, please!

  2. Kevin Miller says:

    If they return 82% of teachers each year, that might imply that they have only 37% left from the cohort after 5 years. Presumably the rate tapers off, but having 82% stay after the first year isn’t obviously inconsistent with a <50% retention rate after 5 years.

  3. Homeschooling Granny says:

    I am delighted to see that debate is mentioned among activities to be included in a longer school day. People need to learn how to argue civilly. Current politics might be less acrimonious and divisive if people had learned early on to argue the other side of a debate as well as their own.

  4. Ben is right…and this is the drawback of relying exclusively on Direct Instruction-style techniques. Drill, drill, drill is deadly and turns off the struggling kids. We already don’t have enough to motivate the struggling students to stay in school…or perhaps this is the plan.

    Ali is absolutely right in this. Longer school days, yes, but longer school days to provide the enrichment and additional development of skills and knowledge of Things That Aren’t On The Test.

  5. Yes, yes. PLEASE consider that teachers are already exhausted at the end of a six-to-seven hour school day, and that most work beyond that–not just occasionally, but 4 or 5 days a week plus weekends.

  6. Just extending the day won’t do any good without realizing the toll that these long days take on teachers – many of whom aren’t spring chickens anymore.

    I object to a longer day that doesn’t have some “down time” in it. In school, there are days where my planning period is taken, my lunch is gone due to lunch duty, and I’m racing madly for the restroom whenever I can get a minute.

    I’m not a machine! I occasionally need to make a personal call (doctor’s appt., checking on a personal bill, etc.), walk around, stretch, in short, turn it OFF!

    Another (*&^%$# meeting during the day will NOT help, no matter whether it’s with teachers who are teaching the same kids I do. I already interact as much as I can with those teachers, before and after school.

    I get into school before 7:30 every day. I don’t leave before 5 pm, most days – sometimes, like when grades are due, it’s later. That doesn’t count the days I am mandated to stay late, for parent conferences, faculty meetings, or tutoring.

    I wasn’t under this much pressure to ignore bodily functions and my own needs since I had 3 kids in diapers – and I was a lot younger then.

    Teachers can’t complain about work, drink, or have active sex lives – even if all of that occurs after school and on vacations. Think I’m kidding? Teachers have been fired for less – and I don’t mean in the olden days, it’s happening right now. We have to live up to an artificial standard that the kids’ own parents – AND the school board – often don’t. All “for the children”.

    You want me to take on any more? Release me from something I’m already doing, and PAY me for the work. Teaching is not an “elastic” job, that can be crammed with more and more responsibility. I’m full up.

  7. I agree that teacher’s day are already long. As a high school English teacher, I know that school basically becomes my life during the school year. Grading papers and guiding young writers finds my burning the old lamp well past the witching hour. As for students, they, too, need independent practice to test the new skills they are acquiring. Longer days? Compared to what? For my take on teaching, please visit my blog at teachermandc.com.

  8. So when does the family actually get to spend time with their kids? 8 to 3 is already a very long time for a young child to be in an institutional setting.

    I suspect 90% of this is driven not by what’s best for the child but what is convenient for dual-income families (who wouldn’t have to pay for afterschool daycare if this passes). Same goes for year-round schooling.

  9. With regards to successful teaching of a skill, the key is not lengthening the day but making better use of the time. My teachers used to be able to give me a solid lesson with HW review, new material intro, drilling, and feedback all in 40-50 minutes.
    The difference?
    First off, students didn’t wander in 3 minutes late. If they did, they got detention immediately that day no matter what.
    Secondly, no need to preview the agenda or perform other starter activities.
    Thirdly, lessons were strictly designed to focus on one skill and one way to perform that skill. Every single piece of work supported that one single skill.
    Fourthly, efficient use of time was maximized by not giving students chances to get off task. Little (if any) group work. Each individual mind was constantly at work. If group work was given, it was usually in pairs and you had to work with the person sitting next to you. No time lost in finding a partner.

    Boring? Maybe. But students got the message that once you were in the room, there was only one thing to focus on – the lesson.

    Instead, we have longer periods (an hour or over), forced transitions to accommodate varied activities for different so-called learning styles, and group work that provides opportunities to socialize.
    Perhaps if we went back to traditional instruction we’d have more time for the arts and recess during the day.

  10. Oh, bleah. Six hours is plenty. Stop pretending we can turn kids into little academics. Start sorting by intellect and ability. Keerist. I’m so tired of this nonsense.

    Ever notice how all the prescriptions are for the low performing kids? Why should we shove them into school for longer?

  11. YMMV, but I find there’s extremely little about my school district which is done on behalf of dual-income households. It’s run for and largely by stay-at-home parents. God love them, because they volunteer time and talent I’m not in a position to. I try to make it up by volunteering treasure I assume they can’t. But there’s not a whole lot about the school that’s done for my household’s convenience. I’d venture to say that’s true for working-single-parent households (of which there are many in my district), except that they’re likely short on treasure, too.
    Of course, this is a purely academic exercise. No argument that a longer school day would present less cost for child care, but let no one operate under the illusion that somehow, public schools are *free*. And I don’t see how we get more school days or more school hours without *paying more* for them. That is, more than the paltry funding we currently provide, something Californians as a whole are manifestly opposed to.

  12. CarolineSF says:

    I clicked on “comment” to make the same point Kevin Miller did. Somebody is trying to pull a flimflam — is it Sehba Ali flimflamming Joanne Jacobs, or both of them attempting to flimflam Joanne Jacobs’ readers? Wristslap for everyone involved in attempting to flimflam, and/or to Joanne Jacobs for falling for it if that’s the case.

  13. And who is paying for this?

  14. When an institution fails to use the resources it has been given wisely, the solution is not to give it *more* resources to squander.

    The public schools, generally speaking, have been terrible stewards both of taxpayer money and of the years of life of the children entrusted to them. The idea of giving them more of either is pretty close to insanity.

  15. I don’t know, Crimson Wife. ‘90% driven by dual-income (and single working parents, presumably)’ feels to me much more like a value judgment than anything based in fact. It’s pretty clear the models here are the longer day and 215-day-plus year in many Asian nation’s school systems, or the 195-day year in Europe, etc. Or are you arguing that those structures were determined by working/single parents as well?

  16. Tim- Finland has some of the top schools in the world, and they have a shorter school day plus kids don’t start until age 7 and complete high school by age 16. The length of their school year is 38 weeks, which is only slightly longer than our 36 week year.

    It’s not the quantity of time spent in school that matters- it’s the quality of it.

  17. Michael E. Lopez says:

    After typing 5 different draft comments for this thread, and realizing that there were substantial problems with all 5, I’ve managed to distill one sentence I don’t think is utterly and totally false:

    Longer school days mean, necessarily, that the schools and their personnel are doing more raising of children, and whether that is a good thing or not for each individual child depends on what the alternative to being raised by the school is for that child.

  18. Crimson Wife, you do realize that no system in the world is as accommodating to single/working parents as the Finns’, right?

    Per Statistics Finland, 76% of Finnish mothers are in the workforce (compared to about 60% in the US), including 65% of those who have three or more children. High-quality, full-day (as much as 10+ hours) nursery school/day care is available from birth to age 7 at no cost to the parent. After-school care/summer care is available to all for a nominal fee.

    So I guess now I’m just confused by your initial argument. Much of the evidence suggests that Finnish children are “in an institutional setting” for much longer periods of time than their US counterparts, and there are more families with two working parents.

  19. Why is it the home environment is hardly ever mentioned? If there is little or no educational support or interest at home how is a teacher going to accomplish anything? Children need to be taught and encouraged to accept the value of education by their parents or guardians before they’re likely to take school seriously

  20. Roger Sweeny says:

    The Tim and Crimson Wife exchange is interesting. Finland has less school but more year-round start-at-birth day care.

    That may be the reason they have less school. More of the day care function of school is provided by … day care.

    A major argument for longer school days and years is that “County X does it and their kids get higher scores than our’s.” However, I don’t think it will happen unless those dual-worker couples feel that it’s a good deal for them. I can actually imagine some of them thinking as Bob does, “”there’s extremely little about my school district which is done on behalf of dual-income households. It’s run for and largely by stay-at-home parents.’ Finally, they’re doing something for us.”

  21. European mothers who are employed are much more likely to be in part-time positions than American mothers. It’s something like 2/3 work <30 hours per week. So while more Finnish mothers may be in the paid workforce, they aren't working the 50-60+ hours that are the norm here. So it's an apples-to-oranges comparison.

  22. I agree it is an apples and oranges comparison, but let me point out that you were the one to make the comparison (quality vs. quantity)! And looking only at what goes on during school hours is misleading when we consider how well Finland treats working parents. Would you brook the higher taxes and hidden costs and massive cultural shifts with respect to employment that it would take to make the US more like Finland?

    I’ll let you have the last word. I confess that I found the tone of your initial post to be insufferable, and I’d just ask that you reconsider what your assumptions are with respect to working/single parents. Many (most?) are doing so to pay the rent and keep a full fridge, not because they are careerist or consider their children an inconvenience.

  23. “My school’s teacher-retention rate isn’t perfect, but while recent studies show that more than half of educators leave in the first five years, we keep 82 percent annually.”

    Mrs. Ali has cited two statistical measures that are not directly comparable. However, taking her statement at face value, one might conclude that in five years Mrs. Ali’s school has a 2/3 loss of teachers, compared to the more normal 1/2. Is Mrs. Ali advocating _higher_ turnover rates for teachers as a means of combating teacher burnout? I think the more likely explanation is that Mrs. Ali is merely “statistically challenged”. This is important because “statistical evidence” is often use to support public policy and decisions about our educational system. Without an understanding of statistics and their appropriate use, incorrect conclusions will be drawn and unsupported actions will be taken. That is not a good way to develop a “better” education system. I think that Mrs. Ali might best be served by relying on her experience with educating children and leaving statistical inferences to those with a better background in this area. I know this obvious misapplication of statistical analysis makes me doubt the credibility of the rest of Mr’s Ali’s statistics. See the November 8, 2010, issue of Newsweek magazine (p. 20) for her complete column/advertisement.

    My experience with my own children is that longer school days and school years work for some but not all. How well it works depends on what is done with the additional time and the learning style of the child involved. One of my children easily profits from additional programs offered before and after school, for the other, it would be a total disaster (we tried, it was).

    Best regards to all those trying to find “a better way”.