Schools with the longest hours tend to be charters and to serve a larger percentage of low-income, black, and Hispanic students than all other schools, according to a new report from the U. S. Government Accountability Office. These schools also add as much as a month’s worth of instruction to the school year.
Commissioned by Congress, the study examined two aspects of expanded learning time: the characteristics of schools with extended time and how the additional time is funded.
Just a small fraction of funding for expanded learning time comes from the federal government, the study found. Only one federal program—the School Improvement Grant program—provides money specifically to establish extended learning time in schools. About 1,800 schools were required to extend learning time under their SIG grants between 2010 and 2015. (There are about 90,000 K-12 public schools nationally.)
An even smaller group of schools, just 69, used federal funds from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant to support existing extended-learning programs.
“In general, federal funds are supplementing what states and districts are already doing,” said Jacqueline Nowicki, the GAO’s director for K-12 education.
Learning Time Nationally
The study also looked at data from the U.S. Department of Education’s 2011-2012 Schools and Staffing Survey to explore learning time in schools more generally.
Here are some of the more salient findings:
- The average length of the school day is just under seven hours, and the average length of the school year is about 180 days.
- Schools that expand learning time typically add hours to the school day rather than days to the school year.
- On average, the school year is 1,200 hours. Schools with the most time have about 1,340 hours, or four more weeks of time than the national average.
- The number of hours in a school year differs by region. Schools in the South have an estimated average of 1,253 learning hours per year, or 107 more hours than those in the West.
- Charter schools make up a large proportion of schools with extended time. About one-third of charter schools have more time, compared to 9 percent of traditional public schools.
- The schools in the top 10 percent with the most extended time have a larger proportion of African-American and Hispanic students than schools overall. They also have a larger proportion of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, an indicator of poverty. (This is likely because charter schools have larger percentages of African-American, Hispanic, and low-income students than traditional schools.)
- Elementary, middle, and high schools differ little in the number of hours per school year.
See the full report, “Federal Funding for and Characteristics of Public Schools with Extended Learning Time.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.