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This article was originally posted  on neatoday.org

Lets way the pros and cons.

A 9 to 5 School Day: Are Longer Hours Better for Students and Educators?

In 2004, Kuss Middle School in Fall River, Massachusetts, was labelled a Level 4 or “chronically underperforming” school, a lowly status that made it the focus of increased oversight and intervention. By 2013, however, Kuss, along with other struggling schools in this high-poverty district, had pushed its ranking all the way to Level 1. Whereas many interventions can impose punitive measures that divide communities, the improvement in student achievement at Kuss has been credited in no small part to longer school days or extended learning time (ELT) – a reform championed by many school officials, educators, parents, and community leaders.

“We’ve seen schools that have added as many as 90 minutes to their day improve quite dramatically,” says Rebecca Cusick, a fourth-grade teacher and president of the Fall River Educators’ Association.

Massachusetts has been a leader in ELT for more than a decade. In 2005, the state legislature created the Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time Initiative and approved major funding to support high-poverty schools that lengthened the school year. The initiative currently supports 19 schools and more than 10,000 students. Individual models may differ, but the schools have all lengthened their calendars by approximately 300 hours annually. For a school on a typical 180-day calendar, this translates to roughly 90 minutes of additional classroom time daily. The extra time is used for core subject instruction, teacher professional development, and student engagement activities.

Schools are provided with more “comprehensive educational experiences as well as more informal play time and social development opportunities that too many schools today are not able to provide simply because they don’t have enough time to do so,” explains Jennifer Davis, co-founder and president of the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL).

The popularity of longer school days got a major boost in 2013 with a joint program between NCTL, the U.S. Department of Education and the Ford Foundation called the “Time Collaborative.” This three-year initiative involved 40 schools in the states of Colorado, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Tennessee. Outside of major projects like this, more school districts across the country are also stretching the school day, although in less ambitious ways.

But the shift to longer school days comes with pitfalls or, at least, unmet expectations. And even those educators who are in schools that have successfully implemented ELT initiatives will be the first to issue a warning – a longer school day is not for everyone.

Longer School Days: Weighing the Pros and Cons

Currently, around 1,500 schools across the country have extended learning hours, a significant increase since 2009 when only 650 had implemented the shift. Its popularity in some communities won’t necessarily be replicated in others, says Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association.

“It can work, but extended learning time is not the panacea many of its advocates claim it to be,” he cautions.

The question is, will the care and precision that has made the program successful be diminished or even ignored as enthusiasm grows?  (The National Education Association does not have an official position on longer school days, only that the process should be carefully planned and collaborative.)

Research on the academic impact of longer school days is mixed. The Massachusetts Department of Education conducted a study in 2006-07 and found that increasing the school day by 25 percent resulted in an improvement in test scores of 5-10 percent. Other districts, including Washington, D.C., found no such correlation. Again, different communities use different models, so comparing results can be unreliable.

Skeptics of longer school days point out that high-achieving nations such as Finland, Singapore, and China have chosen not to take this route, opting instead for maximizing learning and collaboration time during the traditional schedule. Indeed, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, U.S. teachers already spend more time in direct instruction with students than their peers in practically every other developed country.

And extended learning requires money – lots of it. In Fall River, grants have been essential as the district, despite its commitment to the program, has struggled to maintain funding. Rebeca Cusick in Fall River acknowledges this challenge, but says it is not a reason to turn away or abandon the initiative.

“As costs increase, we  are going to have to get creative to make it work.”

The interest in longer school days has extended beyond the immediate impact on students and educators. A recent study by the Center for American Progresssounded the alarm about how the traditional school schedule is out of sync with the realities of the economic climate. Specifically, school schedules are misaligned with the work schedules of parents, forcing them to split their time “between being a committed parent and being a committed working professional.”

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