Good or Bad Idea? 5 States Opt for Longer School Days

Teachers' unions are concerned about longer school days, but advocates believe the shift will help close the achievement gap.

longer school days

Five states will have longer school days next fall. (Photo: RubberBall Productions)

is a freelance writer based in San Francisco, who writes about economic crises and political snafus.

That classroom clock is about to get a little slower for thousands of public school kids who may have to endure longer school days.

This week, five states announced participation in an educational pilot program that will add over 300 hours to the 2013 school year in approximately 40 selected schools. Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee are the five states participating in this experiment to see if longer school days will help promote student success and global competitiveness.

“I’m convinced the kind of results we'll see over the next couple of years will compel the country to act in a very different way,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan is quoted as saying about this program in an AP article.

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In addition to state and federal financing, the Ford Foundation is providing $9 million in grant money to the program and the National Center on Time and Learning (NCTL) is helping coordinate it. The longer school days—which will be created by extending school days and adding school days to the calendar—will be used to promote core academic standards and provide cultural education to students.

“The leadership of these five states will deliver a major boost to a growing national movement that recognizes that schools—particularly ones serving high-poverty communities—simply need more teaching time if they are going to prepare students for a globally competitive and high-tech 21st century,” said Luis Ubiñas, president of the Ford Foundation, in a statement. “But this is not just about adding time and doing more of the same. It’s about creating a learning day that suits the needs of our children, the realities of working parents, and the commitment of our teachers. It’s a total school makeover.”

According to a New York Times article, advocates across the country have been promoting longer school days and more than 1,000 schools have already done so. Advocates say the longer school days may help low-income children become better prepared for success in a test-driven school world. Teacher’s unions, however, have said the longer school day just creates more work for overwhelmed and underpaid teachers and does not do much good for the students. According to the Times article, research so far on this subject is “mixed.”

This three-year pilot program will initially create a longer school day for approximately 20,000 students, and there are hopes for expansion.

“To prepare students for college or a middle-class job in today’s economy, the conventional basics are not enough. Students need to know how to solve complex problems, work independently and in teams, and how to think critically,” said Jennifer Davis, cofounder and president of NCTL, in a statement. “Teaching these skills takes more time and a more personalized approach than most schools offer today. With more time in the school calendar, schools can offer a well-rounded curriculum, more individualized support for students, and more time for teachers to hone their craft. For high-poverty schools, more time means more learning opportunities for children to succeed in school and in life.”

Do you think students should have longer school days across the U.S.? Share your thoughts in comments.

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