Are Longer School Days Really Needed?
Adding more time to the academic day could be too much of a bad thing.
As part of a pilot program pushed by the U.S. Education Department, school districts in five states will make their school days longer in an attempt to help kids learn more.
CBS News reported:
Spending more time in the classroom, education officials said, will give students access to a more well-rounded curriculum that includes arts and music, individualized help for students who fall behind and opportunities to reinforce critical math and science skills. Education Secretary Arne Duncan added in a statement that it will give educators more time to teach children other things like how to play an instrument or computer coding skills.
The program will add a total of 300 hours to the school calendar which averages out to adding just under two hours to the typical eight-hour school day. Sounds good and if the three-year project turns out to be a success, we can expect the model to be duplicated throughout the rest of the country.
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But unless schools make fundamental changes in how they operate and especially in their engagement of black children, who are most in need of educational reform, making the school day longer could be too much of a bad thing.
On the one hand, adding the two extra hours can be viewed as a way to replace afterschool programs that have been disappearing, which could be a welcome improvement. Afterschool programs have been for the most part voluntary, leaving it up to students and their parents to decide whether to participate and perhaps benefit educationally.
The extra time could also be time spent away from the television for U.S. school children, which could also be a good thing. According to a 2010 study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, American kids spend nearly 30 hours a week watching television. That's almost the equivalent of working a full-time job. And for young black kids, studies have found detrimental links between television watching and low-self esteem.
However, it's important to determine and monitor exactly how schools use the extra time. The idea of kids learning more because they are in school because they are in school longer sounds like a direct correlation, but not necessarily.
Two of the states participating in the longer school day project, Connecticut and Tennessee, are also two of the worst states for African American students when it comes to the chances of them being suspended. Keeping children in schools where they already aren't welcome could lead to more trouble, not progress.
[Also Read: The Worst States For African American School Kids]
Another factor to consider is that of teacher participation. As we saw with the recent Chicago teacher strikes, we have a population of teachers who already find the time they currently spend in school stressful enough. State and district funds with additional support from the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning are paying for the five-state experiment. But will other states be able to find the resources to pull it off?
In addition, this program is inspired by the disappointing findings that the American school system ranks as average among competing nations. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment, the U.S. received an average score of around 500 out of 1,000, with 502 in science (17th out of 34), 500 in reading (14th out of 34) and 487 in math (25th out of 34).
The U.S. already spends more than any other country in the world on education, so adding more money and time may not be the solution to the problem. A 2011 report from the National School Boards Association's Center for Public Education pointed out that kids in South Korea, Finland and Japan spend less time in the classroom, but still perform better than their American peers.
Instead of adding more time to the school day, America's education system should consider changing its curriculum to better prepare students to deal with the "real world." Studies show that children, especially poorer ones are spending more time on their smartphones and computers. Instead of suspending them for playing games on their iPhones, why not find ways to use this technology to educate them or teach them how to use these tools instead of blaming them for contributing to their low literacy levels?