The Debate over Lengthening Time in School

The Debate over Lengthening Time in School

As educators search for ways to comply with government programs like 'No Child Left Behind', a national debate over adding time to the school year is taking place. Let's see what this is about...
EduZenith Staff
By Mark Hoerrner

Twenty billion dollars.

That's the estimated price tag listed by the Education Commission for the states for lengthening the current public school year from 180 to 200 days. The extension will still be less than other countries. England's school year runs 220 days. Japanese students spend 243 days in the classroom, and German schools are open for 240 days.

Viewing that most school districts are scrambling for funding and politicians are seeking ways to lower property taxes, the likelihood of schools getting the money necessary to make such an extension is unlikely. That hasn't stopped groups advocating the annual change, or other extra-time alterations to the school day, from carrying forward the idea of an altered school schedule.

According to the Gannett News Service, schools in a number of states have already altered the school year in some way. A pilot program in Massachusetts is being tested at 10 schools, where the students are spending longer days in front of the teacher. Minnesota is debating adding five weeks to the school calendar, and other schools across the nation have added time to students' class periods.

In a story by the Boston Globe, 20 Massachusetts districts have applied for grants to extend the school day citing concerns that the current schedule does not give teachers enough time to tackle all the subjects necessary to both comply with state and federal demands and still have time for liberal arts studies such as arts, music, and physical education.

"Right now, as we think about our school," Mary Russo, principal of Boston's Murphy K-8 School, told the Globe. "We think about it as not having enough time within the confines of the 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. day to teach everything that needs to be taught, everything we'd want kids to have. The hours in the school day just aren't enough for us."

One of the kinks in modern American education is the controversial 'No Child Left Behind' program that seeks to develop accountability for the nation's schools. Accountability that most say is unlikely to happen under the current time structure.

"There is no way we're going to meet that goal unless we do some radical things like adding time," said Jennifer Davis, president of Massachusetts 2020, a non-profit group intent on longer hours in school. "This is a very deep societal change we're talking about, even though it makes a heck a of a lot of sense. It's not easy and it's not simple."

Beyond the compliance issue, there's a more global competitiveness concern. At the high school level, German teens are required to log more than 3,500 hours of instruction on the core curriculum compared to about 1,500 hours for American students. This brings into relief the question of whether or not America can continue to turn out a significant technological workforce.

The current school schedule is one derived from America's years as a primarily agrarian nation, experts say, and with the reformation to an industrialized nation should have come a revolution in education.

As the national debate continues, one thing is clear―school districts want to be successful, regardless of how additional time is implemented. But what must come, either from state or federal sources, is the backing to ensure that any such program has a chance of increasing a child's access to education.

"The devil is in the details, because in order to extend the day by 30 percent, you're talking about a significant commitment of resources," said Catherine A. Boudreau, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, in the Globe. "You can't ask school districts to do this and then not make a commitment that there is going to be the resources to follow."