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Should the School Day be Longer?

Calls to extend the typical school day have been gaining momentum across the nation, with advocates contending that more teaching time is necessary to keep American students competitive in a global economy.

Other proponents of extended learning time (ELT) say that increasing requirements in English and math have eaten away at the time available for social studies, physical education, art and music. That means additional time is necessary to cover all subjects adequately.

According to the National Center on Time and Learning, it could cost an estimated $1,000 to $5,000 per student per year to lengthen the school day, which would increase school costs by a projected 5% to 10%.

In February 2013, the nonprofit center’s co-founder Chris Gabrieli told National Public Radio that a longer school day would provide students, particularly low-income youngsters, with more opportunities for extracurricular activities and enrichment classes.

Gabrieli’s organization published a report in 2012 that showed that more than 1,000 U.S. public schools operated with an expanded schedule. Most were elementary and middle schools serving high percentages of low-income minority students. The schools generally added two or three hours to each day, which some experts say is less expensive than increasing the number of days of class in the school year.

Massachusetts, New York and California are among the states that have lengthened the day in public schools through additional funding to high-poverty schools, the Deseret News reported in May 2013. Additionally, the ExpandED Schools initiative, a public-private partnership, began to extend the school day for disadvantaged students at elementary and middle schools in Baltimore, New Orleans and New York City in 2011.

Massachusetts is considered to be the first state to embrace a longer day on a large scale. Since 2005, the state has provided $1,300 per student to 19 schools in nine districts for an additional 300 hours of class time every year, according to a report by Scholastic.

Questions remain about the effectiveness of lengthening the school day. A study by the National Academy of Education found that each 10% increase in the school day produced only a 2% increase in learning, according to Scholastic.

Adding time to the school day won’t necessarily bring better student outcomes unless the extra hours are part of a comprehensive educational plan. Additionally, with many school districts dealing with tighter budgets, the costs associated with longer school days may prove prohibitive.

Still, proponents are hopeful that a growing volume of evidence will sway public opinion. For example, a Harvard economist found that boosting annual learning time by 300 hours was one of the strongest predictors of higher achievement in New York charter schools, the Deseret News reported.

“There is a significantly expanding movement in this country to challenge the orthodoxy of the school schedule,” Gabrieli told the Utah newspaper. “People are finally facing the fact that the school schedule wasn’t set by what we need to do to get the job done.”