Education Leaders Weigh In on Expanded Learning Time

By Nora Fleming — September 27, 2011 2 min read
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“When and where does it make sense to institute a longer school day, and how should it be designed?” asks a New York Times opinion pollof some leading movers and shakers in education, published today.

According to Geoffrey Canada, president and chief executive officer of the Harlem Children’s Zone, an expanded learning model would benefit working parents and single-family households, as well as ensure that subjects that often get shortchanged (arts, social studies) are given adequate time, too.

Paul Reville, Massachusetts secretary of education, also voices his supportfor expanded learning time but says the time needs to be targeted to the neediest students, those from low-income backgrounds and who have special needs, and it needs to be well-structured.

“Educators must use additional time to implement research-based curriculum and instructional strategies to provide students with stimulating enrichment activities, and to give teachers common planning time and high quality professional development,” Reville says.

But others disagree.

“I have found no compelling research that supports the proposition that a longer school day improves educational outcomes,” writes Vicki Abeles, director and producer of the documentary “Race to Nowhere: The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture.” “The real issue is the quality of the education we’re providing, not the amount of hours spent in a classroom.”

Yet others support more time, but used and structured in specific ways.
Annie Murphy Paul, author of the book Origins, says the time should be used for arts education, more sleep, and exercise/recess. Mary A. Carskadon, a Brown University professor of psychiatry and human behavior echoes Paul’s thoughtsabout the necessity of sufficient hours of sleep for children, particularly middle and high school students.

A Fairfax County, Va. teacher, Vern Williams, said teachers need more timeto teach core academics, not use the time for “glorified recess or unstructured study halls.” He says there are still questions that need to be answered

“Would a longer school day reduce the amount of extra teaching duties, which seem to expand each year that I teach? Will it reduce the homework load for students since they will be spending more time in school? Will teachers be adequately compensated?” Williams asks.

Kathleen Porter-Magee, senior director of the High Quality Standards Project at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, also questions if allexpanded time models are equal. Porter-Magee asks if expanded learning days within school walls should really be mandated for all students, and instead, if some students could opt to do internships or hands-on volunteer work they view to be beneficial.

“In the end, extending the school day is the easy part,” Porter-Magee writes. “Ensuring that the time spent in class is focused and that the extra time adds real value will require much harder choices than simply dismissing students later in the day.”

For background on the rising interest in expanded learning time, check out my archived webinarfrom August.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Beyond School blog.