Canton Repository

February 8, 2007

Longer day, more learning for students?

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON Simply adding time in school won't improve students' performance, a panel of experts agreed Wednesday.

But they said if increased hours are coupled with more effective use of learning time, there can be a significant academic benefit.

Low-income, underprivileged students are most in need of such enrichment, they said.

"The kids that really need more quality learning time are those kids who aren't getting it in school or out of school," said Elena Silva, an analyst at the Education Sector, a nonpartisan, nonprofit education think tank in Washington, D.C.

Lengthening these students' school day alone might not make a difference because they are often in the worst-performing schools.

"When we add time to these schools, we may just be adding more bad time," she said.

Silva is author of a new Education Sector report, "On the Clock: Rethinking the Way Schools Use Time," which was discussed by the panel.

DETAILS FROM REPORT

The report addresses the growing interest in adding hours or days to the school year as a means of improving the performance of American students. It is available at www.educationsector.org

Silva said more school time is not a panacea.

"We don't have research that can tell us definitively what the outcome of extended school time would be," she said.

But according to the report, studies show that when students spend more time engaged in learning, their achievement rises.

Just increasing allocated time, which includes such non-academic activities as lunch and school assemblies, makes little difference, according to the report.

Affluent students typically have more opportunity than poorer students to get involved in enriching activities after school and during the summer, the panelists said.

PROS AND CONS OF LONGER DAYS

Chris Gabrieli, chairman of Massachusetts 2020, a nonprofit educational group, advocated longer days.

Americans typically spend 6 1/2 hours in school, 180 days a year. Europeans attend school as many as 210 days, while the Japanese hit the books for 240 days.

Gabrieli's group lobbied Massachusetts officials to create a $6.5 million pilot program that extends the school day by two hours in 10 elementary and middle schools where many of the students come from low income families.

He said the results are promising, but more experiments are needed.

Rick Larios, a vice president at the Edison Institute, a for-profit school management company, said the firm has backed away from an extended school year after discovering that many students failed to show up.

The company began the school year two weeks early and extended it an additional two weeks.

The experts pointed out that adding school time is fraught with difficulty and requires support from the community to succeed. Parents often object to an extended school year, as do teachers, they said.

"Each community has to determine what makes the most sense, said An-Me Chung, who writes educational grants for the C.S. Mott Foundation. "If you don't get the buy-in from that community, nothing is going to be sustainable."

They also said teacher preparation is key.

Larios said if school time is added in a way that burdens teachers, it will be counterproductive.

In the Massachusetts pilot project, teachers are spending more hours in school. But Gabrieli said they also are benefiting from additional time built into the day for lesson planning and professional development.