Longer days means more learning, right?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how longer school days could very well be the solution to an education system that’s been lagging over the years.

It seems that among legislators especially, the most popular fix to education is “more;” more exposure to math and science, more testing to monitor student achievement, and now more time to squeeze it all in.

This week, schools in five states said they will add 300 hours of classroom time in 2013 in hopes of improving student achievement in literacy, math and science. More school hours could mean longer days for students. Although the three-year pilot program will affect only 20,000 students across 40 school districts in five states, it has potential to create a beaten path that’s followed by school districts all over the country in the foreseeable future.

It bears the question: Is it too much?

Certainly I can see the benefits of lengthening the school day. Teachers are always saying they wish they had more time to teach material, and students usually agree. Longer school days would provide that additional time to work with students and get them up to par with academic expectations, particularly students in dominantly low-income communities like our own. Time could also be spent exposing kids to more arts, music, physical activities, social engagement; even nap time would help ... really the list of educational opportunities made available is endless.

There is, however, a general perception that a longer school day automatically leads to better test scores in the basics – math, science and English. At least that seems to be the popular belief. But longer days also brings a few other considerations to the table. First off, countless educational researchers have conducted studies to link classroom time to student achievement, and for the most part, results are inconclusive (arguably because the average attention span is between 10-20 minutes). There’s no tough evidence that suggests a longer school day leads to better test scores.

So if results of a longer day are mixed then arguably, more time in the classroom equates to more time for students to stare at the wall.

Perhaps emphasis shouldn’t be put on “more” school as much as it should be on instruction. After all, the goal is for students to learn, not to see how much work they can do. Quantity does not compensate for quality. In education – just as in the business world – time is money, but unfortunately time does not translate to learning. Extended school hours are only as good as the teachers who can use their resources effectively.

Then, since it’s hard to talk about anything without tying a price tag to it, there’s the cost issue. Hundreds of schools in New York State strive to keep the doors open with the average school day as it is. Longer days, even by an hour, would put a majority of those schools at the breaking point. It’s an hour longer to keep the lights on, an hour longer to keep heat running, an hour longer to pay teachers and staff, and so on. Anyone who’s ever been grocery shopping knows that a little here and little there adds up, and it adds up fast.

Even more money is spent if that extra bit of time is used for other “unessential” curricular programs like arts, music, and sports as suggested by some advocates. These are the very programs many schools have cut over the years to save money. If school days are made longer, or even if there were more school days per year, it means tax payers ought to be ready to fork over the money. I hardly consider myself an expert in business management, but I know people don’t usually work for free.

Finally, there are the opinions of parents, teachers, administrators and other community members, which can go either way. Need I say more?

The point is, if students are spending more time in the classroom, there’s a lot to consider. And just like any other investment, you have to ask: Is it worth it?

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunshawn.

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