What to do with a longer school day

It’s n0t enough to add time to the school day, advises a new National Center on Time & Learning report. Effective extended-learning schools use eight “powerful practices” concludes “Time Well Spent,” which profiles successful schools serving low-income students.

  1. Making every minute count or maximizing added time;
  2. Prioritizing increased hours that are tailored to the school and their students;
  3. Individualizing the added time for each student based on diverse needs;
  4. Building a positive school culture of high expectations and mutual accountability;
  5. Providing new experiences for students that make their education more well-rounded;
  6. Preparing students for the future by encouraging college readiness and career goals;
  7. Strengthening instruction by providing increased time for teacher professional development; and
  8. Evaluating how well goals are met by assessing and analyzing data.

Massachusetts  is the only state to fund longer school days: 19 schools now get the extra funding. However, NCTL estimates there are 1,000 expanded-learning-time schools nationwide. Not all have seen significant achievement gains.

Schools applying for No Child Left Behind waivers should use extended learning time as a reform strategy, NCTL urges. At a Center for American Progress forum on the report, Education Secretary Arne Duncan endorsed a longer school day and year.

“Right now, children in India, children in China and other places, they’re going to school, 30, 35 days more than our students. If you’re on a sports team and you’re practicing three days a week and the other team is practicing five days a week, who is going to win more? Anybody who thinks we need less time, not more, is part of the problem,” he said.

Top-performing students don’t need more time in school, forum participants said. For disadvantaged students, schools can be both places to learn and safe havens from dangerous neighborhoods.

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  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    For disadvantaged students, schools can be both places to learn and safe havens from dangerous neighborhoods.

    For many, though, they are also places where they are expected to do things that they are simply not very interested in, certainly not 7 or 8 hours interested in. To keep them that long and expect positive things is probably not reailstic.

    Of course, you could make those extra hours non-academic. That would serve the haven purpose. And it might do some good things: exercise? music?

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    It’s an interesting list. Four have to do with students (2,3,5,6). One has to do with teachers (7). Two have nothing directly to do with added time (4,8). And one is kind of a general goal (1).

    It’s hard to argue with that general goal: “Making every minute count or maximizing added time.” But if that means making every extra minute academic, it is cruel and will probably be ineffective.

  3. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    Many parents already view the schools as no more than taxpayer funded babysitting/daycare. Extending the school day for the largely unmotivated and unprepared keeps them off the streets or away from a latchkey neighborhood, but doesn’t necessarily benefit society. The diminishing of parental responsibility continues, and since a parent is the first and most important teacher in his/her child’s life, this doesn’t bode well for the survival of our country as we know it. The apple is rotten from the core, and longer school days, more money spent on fancy computers, ipads, smartboards, ad nauseum, new and “improved” curricula, more teacher professional development or other similar insipid ideas only put a false shiny veneer on that rotten apple. Never have so many done so little with so much. (Apologies to Churchill)

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Frankly, most schools (at least at the 8-12 level) could probably use LESS classroom time and more study hall/semi-supervised discretionary time with raised out-of-class expectations and workload.

  5. Kirk Parker says:

    These just sound like vague platitudes. Seriously, look at each one and ask, “If I were trying to decide between doing X and doing Y with the extra time, where X and Y each have at least *some* plausible value, how would this point help me decide between them?”

  6. I’ve looked for but never found a ‘time and motion’ study for how kids actually spend their school day – I think it would be interesting especially for elementary schools. How many minutes in a day do they actually spend focusing on some academic material, as opposed to other things.

    • Sean Mays says:

      It would be an interesting study indeed. Having taught, I’d be surprised if more than 70% of the day is hands on academic.

      One proxy might be to look at homeschool requirements – let’s assume the state sets those to provide an equivalent education. In that case, Colorado (the state with which I’m most familiar) only requires 4 hours a day of instruction spread over 172 days. Using the classic 120 hours = 1 Carnegie Unit that’d work out to ABOUT 6 CU a year (5.7). For high school that would give me 24 CU’s which is around what it takes for most HS diplomas which I know of.

      The school day was about 7 hours. 64% hard academics as a floor (you could pull one study hall a day). You’ll never get 100% of course – needed overhead like lunch and passing periods. It’s a stake in the ground though.

  7. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Indiana requires 180 days of instruction but doesn’t specify time per day. On the other hand, OHIO specifies about 5-6 hours a day of school, if a parent uses a 185 day calendar.

    I could see extended day being useful for low SES kids IF it focused on providing the background cultural knowledge/ experiences that their parents were unable to provide (because, in the city, it’s really not a $$$ issue– a trip to the Lincoln Park zoo is CHEAPER than a trip to the movies or a new Xbox game. Most museums have free days and ‘scholarships.’ There are library branches everywhere. It’s culture, not money.)

    So, I’d say go for 2-3 hours of intense academics followed by field trips to the sort of places more educated parents take for granted, and read-a-louds from excellent books. Also, move past this “we only go to the x museum once a year” model that most schools have, and visit the same place again and again. This is HUGE for kids, since most museums and zoos are just too much to really ‘get’ on the first time. Include ‘green time’ as well–parks, botanical gardens, interesting state parks.

    If the problem is that kids are arriving at school with a huge knowledge gap, fill the gap—but keep in mind that a lot of what my kids would arrive at school with didn’t come from books. It came from patient walks through interesting places accompanied by knowledgeable adults who are willing to slow down and answer spontaneous questions…..(or to write the question down and find the answer when we got home!)

  8. Cranberry says:

    Massachusetts requires at least 180 school days. Required student structured learning time is 900 hours in 1-8, 990 hours in 9-12. At the high school level, that works out to at least 5.5 hours per day of structured learning time. (http://www.doe.mass.edu/news/news.aspx?id=5984)

    If state performance on NAEP correlates with required time on campus & in class, that would be…interesting. The salient question would be, “longer than what?” I could conceive of school days which would be much too short, but then there is a limit to how well students tolerate instruction.

    A number of the “8 powerful practices” don’t seem to require students to be on campus. A class of students sits under the watchful eye of a substitute, while the teacher takes part in professional development? That seems to waste the “extra” time, and to be the most expensive way to meet the need.