Why some Schools are Lengthening the School Day

Across the United States, schools have wrestled with the concept of adding time to the regular school day. There is an ongoing debate. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the reasons schools are lengthening school days or seriously considering it, and also discuss at some of the arguments against the idea.

In addition to a longer school day being part of the school reform programs proposed by the Obama administration, some educators believe in the concept so that children have more opportunities for learning. Some parents appreciate having more of the afternoon to devote to their work and other responsibilities, along with what they see as the resulting benefits to their children’s education.

On the contrary, other parents do not wish to relinquish the hours of opportunity for their children to be involved in regular private after-school activities, such as individual music, art, or dance lessons, or non school-related sports or other recreational activities. There are already few enough after-school hours in the day… a concern expressed by many opponents of the longer school day.

But there are additional reasons why there is support for longer school days. In some parts of the country, chunks of school time are lost due to weather conditions. Snow days are common in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, and depending on the amount of snowfall or ice and resulting flooding as a thaw or rainfall sets in, in a particular season, precious days of educational requirements are lot. Frequent weather-related school cancellation days occur in other parts of the country, as well. Some weather conditions keep schools closed even in southern states for a week or longer. Longer school days would allow students to complete the required number of hours per school year without extending the school term far into the approaching summer.

Not all educators or parents are sold on longer school days. Parents and students comment that children are leaving for school in the dark of night during winter – a difficult adjustment for many families. Some schools have lengthened their days without the educational successes and outcomes hoped for. As of 2009, the proposition was still on the table as a point for negotiation in school contracts in many school districts.

The question is whether longer school days are really needed, or if other methods of school reform work better.

Some teachers remark that by the end of the regular school day, they and their students are at the end of their capacity for further teaching and learning. Says one teacher, by then her “tank is pretty much empty.” Studies have shown that post-lunch attention deficit syndrome is a very real obstacle for some students, and not much substantial learning actually occurs during the post-lunch hours.

Other research indicates that students are only “on task for about a third of the hours spent in school,” suggesting that a better idea would be to improve instruction and quality of delivery and find other alternatives to increase learning, rather than to lengthen the school day.

Why is the prospect of a longer school day still looming in the United States? Most school districts that have tried the program have not yet seen an appreciable rise in students’ grades. But proponents of more hours of school per day espouse the plan on the basis of school day schedules in other countries. Their higher achievements academically would seem to show that more hours per day result in better academic progress. However, some of our U.S. educators point out that the entire academic system in other countries is very different from that of the U.S., with students separated according to their capabilities and placed into vocational or technical learning situations, or are placed into other tracks to receive a liberal arts-based education. Foreign schools do many things differently, so it is somewhat senseless to model U.S. schools after foreign schools based only on the length of the school day.

Some schools have used results of standardized tests as the measure of success, claiming that reading and math scores are improved, and that deficits in these areas are made up by having a longer day. Still, much of the success seen in test results may have to do with other things, such as the quality of teaching and the amount of preparation time teachers have in the U.S.

Still, U.S. students clearly need some sort of impetus for better learning in order to prepare for the educational or working world ahead.

Is the question really more about quality versus quantity?

Perhaps good educational outcomes have more to do with the quality of teaching than the quantity of hours spent in school per day. It is well known that salaries for teachers are low compared to salaries earned in other vocations. Teachers who spend more time in the classroom before or after school are usually preparing for the next day’s work. However, most are not paid for this additional time.  Most are found working on their own time over weekends and holidays, but the only wages they will receive are for the time spent in school, based on the regular school day’s set number of hours.

Whether a longer school day is beneficial to students, teachers, parents, and our world ranking in educational outcomes depends on how extra hours of school per day would be used. If the additional time is used for more engaging, interesting, or motivational approaches to actual learning, the longer day may be worth the adjustments that would have to be made. However, teachers need to be made a part of the discussion process and, without a doubt, compensated for the additional time spent in their classroom each day.