Longer year boosts learning, widens gaps

Extending the school year would improve learning significantly — and widen achievement gaps, writes Seth Gershenson on Brookings’ Chalkboard.

That’s because high achievers benefit more than low achievers from additional learning time. His research is discussed in this IZA paper.

For kindergarteners in the 10th percentile of achievement, the effect of a 250-day school year is  about 0.75 of a standard deviation in math, while the average effect is 1.75 SD for those in the 90th percentile, he writes. Results are similar for reading.

This raises an intriguing question. Is equality (or less inequality) more important than boosting the performance of low achievers?

Time alone isn’t enough

Extending the school day without improving teaching won’t make much difference, concludes a new Education Sector report,  Off the Clock: What More Time Can (and Can’t) Do for School Turnarounds.

More than 90 percent of the schools receiving federal School Improvement Grants have chosen turnaround options that call for more class time. Some have added class time by shortening recess and lunch. Others have created after-school programs.

“New designs for extended time should be a part of the nation’s school improvement plans,” (author Elena) Silva concludes. “But policymakers and school leaders must recognize that successful schools use time not just to extend hours and days but to creatively improve how and by whom instruction is delivered.”

The limited research on extended learning time (ELT) shows only small effects on student achievement, the report concludes. “Schools that have succeeded with extended time have done so largely because they include time as part of a more comprehensive reform.” Just doing the same old thing for an extra 20 minutes a day isn’t going to help.

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.