Cobb school board member: Increase length of school day and year to improve learning

In recommending Cobb County Schools consider an extended day and school year, school board member David Morgan waded into controversial waters: Does more time in the classroom lead to more learning?

At a school board meeting Wednesday, Morgan extolled the benefits of the longer school day being used by the charter school network Success Academy in New York.

KIPP, which operates charter schools in metro Atlanta, also employs a longer school day and school year; the days typically go from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and the school year averages 192 days. The mandated school year in Georgia runs 180 days.

Stopwatch hanging on red ribbon against white background, close-upIt would seem a simple equation: More time ought to equal more learning. But, as with all educational innovations, there are caveats and contrary findings.

Students in many countries that outperform the United States spend less time in school, including Finland. The general consensus is simply adding more time is not enough if you don’t change instruction quality.

As Harris Cooper, a Duke University professor who leads the national research on year-round schools, told me once: “But no matter how much time kids are in school, what you do with that time is the most critical aspect.”

Cobb’s Morgan is not alone in seeing more time as a solution to low achievement, especially for at-risk kids who may not get any educational enrichment at home.

According to a recent study by the National Center on Time & Learning: In 2014 alone, at least 35 districts (across more than 10 states) announced that they are implementing or considering implementing a longer day and/or year in at least some schools.

In the preface to its study “Learning time in America: Trends to reform the American School Calendar,” the center advocates for longer school days, noting, “…conventional American school calendar too often poses an enormous impediment to educating the next generation. The core idea presented in Prisoners of Time, the 1994 report of the National Commission on Time and Learning, now rings truer than ever: In schools, learning should be the constant, and time must vary to serve the individual needs of students in achieving high standards. From this perspective, it has become clear that meeting the learning needs of many of our students— especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds— requires considerably more time than is available in the traditional calendar of 180 6.5-hour days.”

In its review of the impact of extended school days, Child Trend recommended more study in these areas:

•More research is needed to confirm and better understand the circumstances through which Extended School Days programs are more effective for low-income, lower-performing, and ethnic minority students. Many of the studies that suggest that these programs are more effective for these subgroups base this finding on the positive outcomes found in evaluated programs solely serving these populations; however, in some studies, outcomes for these groups were not statistically compared with outcomes for students who were not in poverty or who demonstrated higher academic performance in school.

•Researchers suggest many plausible reasons why positive gains for students attending schools with full-day kindergarten programs seem to fade out over time; therefore, future research efforts should focus on ways to better understand this pattern and identify ways to maintain these positive gains over time.

•Future studies examining the effectiveness of Extended School Days programs should not look solely at standardized test scores, but should examine additional educational outcomes as well.

•Future research efforts should incorporate findings about implementation into study results, including information on program quality, content, engagement, and time use.

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