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Making Longer School Days Affordable

rows of desks (dcJohn/Flickr)

(dcJohn/Flickr)

Does more school make a better school? You can make a pretty persuasive argument that it does.

Research by Harvard and MIT found that Boston’s best charter schools are getting some pretty impressive results. And one of the reasons why? Charter school students spend a lot more time in school — more than eight hours a day, on average. That’s two hours more than at Boston’s traditional public schools.

Across the country, more than 1,000 schools have extended their school days. Of those, 90 are here in Massachusetts. Now a coalition of educators and policymakers says it’s time to expand the movement for longer school days to all high-poverty schools within the next decade.

It’s an ambitious goal. It costs money; teachers need to be paid for the extra work. And in this city, the teachers union and the school department have been arguing for years about cost of living raises and pay for extended days. So how do we make this all work?

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  • Sarah Sousa

    Would parents have the authority to opt out of the extra long schoolday on behalf of their children? I assume that an extended school day is not compulsory as it seems to be a district by district decision. Not all parents are away at work when their children arrive home from school. Many families devise their schedules, when able, to allow one parent to be waiting at home for the children. Many parents treasure this time. When do the well-meaning intentions of school districts begin to become infringements on our freedom of choice as families?

    • Jaye

      I think that the attempt to improve learning should be directed at improving quality in the current amount of alloted time.  Then, if necessary, the hours should be increased to provide programs that enhance learning and intelligence.

      Also, the union is interested, as their leader has constantly re-iterated,  in monetary matters.  Educational goals are a lower priority to the BTU.

  • Justhoping2a

    I have serious concerns with the “longer” school day with respect to the “data.”  This is the very thing that is driving education down the tubes.  Parents think they are seeing a better educated child because the course names and descriptions offer much more than they did in the past, but the depth is not in these courses.  Courses are based on breath.  Students will cover xyz over the course of the year so the data can show they have read all of this material, covered all of this math, etc., but students know very little at the end of it all.  It would be much better to teach a child less, and have them really know.  This whole idea of making the school day longer is about pushing that expanded, non-learning curriculum through.

  • Ann

    My middle schooler stays after school 2-3x/week for extra help- especially in math. (I’m aware she is not alone in this).  She has plenty of homework, but frankly doing homework that she doesn’t understand is not productive.  I have the desire, but am not equipped to help her- though I certainly try. I feel she suffers because I can’t provide the support she requires (I don’t understand math well myself AND I am not a teacher).  To have an extended day to provide quality instruction, and spending less time on traditional homework makes perfect sense to me. 

    • Justhoping2a

      Yes, but you said “after school extra help,” not a mandatory extended day program.  There is a world of difference.   Many teachers can no longer allow after school help to their students because their rooms are being used for the extended day program.    There are many issues with extended day programs.  For example, students are in school early in the morning and stay until late often with no afternoon snack being offered.  At schools where it is, the price is often prohibitive to many students.  The buses which bring these students home often drop them far from the morning bus stop and many have to walk a very long distance (up to a mile and half or more).  During the winter months when it’s dark by 3:30 – 4:00 these students are walking home in the dark.   Many students are placed into a class they are not interested in taking and they either skip or become a disciplinary problem.   
      There are many more examples of problems that arise in these mandatory extended day programs.  What these programs do however, is allow data to be pushed through so the schools system looks good.  Fixing the educational problem is not an Einstein equation – it’s pretty simple – as most countries have figured out.  Make students responsible for their learning.  This is what you learn in the 10th grade – test at the end of the year.  If they don’t, or haven’t learned it, give them another year to do so.  But we would rather pay millions of dollars, create all kinds of nonsense programs which allow everyone who has any inkling of an idea to tap into funds and give themselves a nice salary, all the while packing the data to reflect upon what a wonderful job they are doing, and still our students can’t read and write.  Heaven forbid we keep a student back…as Bush said, “No child left behind.”  He didn’t say, “No child will be left uneducated.”

  • Loxmyth

    If it’s just additional drill,  forget it. “More” is not “better”.

    If it was treated  as “electives” in which the kids themselves had some say, structured to help motivate the rest of the material and to teach learning techniques as well as specific material — in other words, what’s done in some schools as the “enrichment program” — it might be effective.

    But any extension of the school day, and even simply improving on what’s done with the time we’ve got now, requires that people be willing to take education seriously and invest in it. Until we do — until we recognize that education IS a long-term
    investment in society which will pay back more than we put in — I’m not
    optimistic.

    The problem isn’t really the schools, or the school system. The problem is societal short-sightedness which has limited what we are willing to let the schools do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/StevenGarson Steve Garson

    I believe that an extended school day would be incredibly beneficial.  Our schools now rank 37th in the world for math and science.  Budget cuts have reduced music, arts and athletic programs.   Class sizes have grown. How about time for compulsory athletics?  Music?  Our children’s education is vital to the future of  our nation.  Might inner city kids benefit from a couple of hours of organized play time or study time? But where would the money come from with the present politics of taxes?  Ever talk to a California resident about their schools?

  • Katherine

    A longer school day is not the answer. In Finland “school runs from 8:00 am to noon or 2:00 pm, depending on the age of students, and the school year is no longer than in the U.S.” In fact Finnish school function like independent schools in the US. Perhaps we should be looking at those models in our own country.

    http://www.nais.org/publications/ismagazinearticle.cfm?ItemNumber=151216

  • Guest

    I agree with the data; schools that require longer days do sometimes show educational improvements. 

    However, what we all need to keep in mind is that while these same schools maintaint they have open enrollment, or enrollment by lottery, their student populations do not accurately reflect those in traditional public schools.  The students and or their families who actively, opt out of traditional public schools, seek alternatives, including schools that require longer days are qualitatively different from the general population of students and families in traditional public schools.  The students who apply to these schools and put their names in to the lotttery, tend to be academically engaged enough to make significant changes in their lives to improve their education, and therefore do not constitute a random sample.  This sample population is inherently smaller, and biased compared to the sample of students and families seen in traditional public schools.

    Therefore, on the surface it appears that longer school days make a difference, and they do, but only as a filter to eliminate less academically engaged students and families from entering the sample. 

    In short, policy makers and media who do not work in public schools are confusing the confounding variables.  Mandatory longer school days in traditional public schools will make a difference for students and families who are academically engaged.  However, regarding students and families who are not academically engaged, we will simply be prolonging their disengagement, and will see limited improvement only on the margins, mostly in the areas of drill and kill memorization for standardized tests, all at the tax payers expense, which may or may not be worth it.  But, that is a different debate.

  • DianeL

    I have daughters at two schools. One is in the local traditional public middle school and the other is at the local charter school. The one at the traditional school has a day of about 8:20 to 2:45p and the charter 7:30- 3:00. I have found the extra hour to be very well used at her school and very valuable. The extra time is used differently on each day of the week but esentially allows for foreign language instruction, study hall time when kids can have homework help or extra help in areas they need it, and an enrichment program that uses engaging topics to teach students research and presentation skills. My older daughter who is at the traditional school just asked to be switched over despite the longer day as she saw that her sister was getting a lot “extra” out of her school time. This was especially telling as she has many friends at her current school and is reluctant to switch for social reasons.

    I don’t think a longer day is a panacea-it’s usefulness is tied to how the time is used. However, I have seen in my experience how a wisely used extended day can be very valuable. For those worried it cuts into family time- I think getting home by 3:30 (after bus ride) leaves for plenty at home time or time for after school activities.

  • Concerned Mom

    The road to **** is paved with good intentions and we are careening there fast!  A longer school day is not the answer, although it may push many of our children over the edge of despair.  A “typical” adult work day would be 8 hours – 7am to 3pm, the guest on the show mentioned a much longer day – something like 7am to 4:30 pm. When you add in travel time, this becomes a ridiculously long day.  Also one cannot assume that the students enjoy all of the activities: for some it is just more demands placed upon them. Why do we think children will flourish under conditions that adults wouldn’t tolerate?  THEN the students have 1-2 hours of homework.  For many children struggling with challenges of attention, processing speed, executive function and learning differences these tasks take much longer. So if you have school until 4:30 and maybe get home by 5pm, have dinner and then do the homework, there is no time left in their day.  No family time, no play time, no unstructured down time.  The children are being completely robbed of their daylight, their day and their childhood. Especially for students with learning differences this is the opposite of what they need.  They are mentally exhausted at the end of the day, and homework is the bain of the entire family’s existence.  I know – I have a bright, gently, funny and dyslexic 7th grader who was destroyed and completely shut down to school by the beginning of first grade – yes, first grade. He is not alone: consistently a third of his classmates required math and reading remediation because the school day was so ineffective.  He lived at home with college-educated parents in a “highly rated” suburban school district and the overall incompetance of the “professionals” was staggering.  I never would have believed it if we weren’t living the nightmare.  We are bypassing normal neurological and social development by pushing more academics on younger and younger children. My heart goes out to the good teachers: they are hamstrung by the relentless and poorly-timed testing cycle and the evr-increasing demands placed upon them. Teachers can help but they cannot be blamed for larger societal ills.  My heart goes out to these students.  After-school and enrichment programs should be an option, not a mandate.  What finally worked for us?  We sold our house to pay tution for a fantastic school for dyslexic students.  In a few short years this school moved mountains for our son.  Where the other school destroyed him his current school has given him skills, hope and a bright future.  Oh – and they did all this between the hours of 8am and 3pm. Do the job right during a shorter day – give them back their childhood.

    • Katherine

      here, here! 

  • Bakeen51

    I have been teaching in an urban ELT school for 4 years, now teaching 25 yrs.  I’ve seen the pendulum swing. . .trends come & go. . .same game/new name!   Yes, of course if you spend more time  learning & practicing something there will be improvement.  You’ll even more likely achieve
    more if you have the support and involvement of your family.Every teacher knows we need to have more time in school, but there are 2 equally important factors: smaller class size and a restructuring of yearly schedule/calendar, example:  12 mos.  track system, ex: 10 wks on, 2 wks. off.  Other challenges schools face are deficient language, vocabulary, and lack of common experiences.  Smaller class size and restructuring of the yearly school calendar have a greater impact on student achievement than a longer day, larger class sizes.

    Research says. . .Ask a teacher. . .we do research every moment we stand in front of our students!

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