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Is a Longer School Day Better?

Is a Longer School Day Better?

Nikhil Swaminathan | GOOD Magazine

Yesterday, the city of Chicago announced a pilot program to introduce extended school days at 15 elementary schools over the coming school year. In total, 90 minutes would be added in the form of 35 minutes of online reading courses, 35 minutes of online math courses, and 20 minutes of free time—for a grand total of 70 extra minutes of actual learning. During that period of time the children will be supervised by adults not affiliated with those pesky teachers’ unions.

The initiative is one of many proposed and already underway to look at the effect of more time spent in school on the quality of learning. Last year, President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan called for extended school years and longer days to help cut the gap in achievement between U.S. children and those from other nations. In February, the school board in Houston approved a pilot program for an extended school year, which would add two weeks to the calendar; it’s superintendent cited longer years at both YES and KIPP charter schools as inspiration for the move.

Meanwhile, a Brooking Institution study released in late-2007 found that more time spent on math instruction led to higher math scores. A study at the American Institutes of Research found that one of the ingredients behind charter schools’ success was an extended school day. Though, more time itself was not the key to its effectiveness.

These schools that embedded support for students into the regular school day and provided for more opportunities for teachers to participate in collective professional development, student-focused discussion, and collaborative planning time" were more important than just more time.

Interestingly, as the idea of extending the school day starts to gain traction, so does the idea of starting it later, as early morning bells have been linked to depression, weight gain, and poor academic performance. Many school districts around the country that once started classes before 8 a.m. have delayed them by roughly an hour.

So, we should keep kids in class longer? But, we shouldn’t start them too early? Either or both is fine by me, as long as it doesn’t bankrupt school districts in the process. A less money-consuming option, of course, is to use the time already allotted for more effective instruction.

Nikhil Swaminathan is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. He was a reporter at Scientific American and an associate editor at SEED magazine. His work has appeared in both of those publications, as well as Newsweek, Mother Jones, The New York Post, The Village Voice, Scientific American Mind, Psychology Today and GOOD. He grew up in Atlanta, Georgia.

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