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Experts Challenge High Schools to Revamp Outdated School Day, Year

Schools in five states will extend their school days in fall 2013, but some say time isn’t the issue.

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High schools don’t need a longer day, but need to be smarter with the time already allotted, one expert says.
High schools don’t need a longer day, but need to be smarter with the time already allotted, one expert says.

Students at select public schools in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee will spend more time in class next school year—at least 300 hours more.

The move will impact more than 19,500 students at 40 elementary, middle, and high schools across 11 school districts, according to a joint announcement last week by the National Center on Time and Learning, a nonprofit that advocates for longer school days, and the Ford Foundation, which will provide financial assistance to participating districts.

Those districts include Denver Public Schools, Boulder Valley School District, Jefferson County School District, and Adams 12 Five Star Schools in Colorado; East Hartford School District, Meriden School District, and New London School District in Connecticut; Fall River School District and Lawrence School District in Massachusetts; Rochester City School District in New York; and Achievement School District (Memphis) and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools in Tennessee.

Which schools take on the extra hours, and how they do so­—a longer school day, extended school year, or a combination of the two—will be left up to state and district officials.

[Learn why some teachers tout the benefits of a 4-day week.]

Advocates of extending the school day and year say the added time will help close the achievement gap by giving low-income students, who are less likely to participate in after-school activities, more face time with instructors.

The move will also help U.S. students compete with those in countries such as South Korea, where students are in school from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, a private educational foundation, said Monday during a panel discussion hosted by the Washington Post.

"We're one of the only countries in the world [that] takes this hiatus from education, as if we have to go back and start working the crops again … It doesn't make any sense," Merisotis said. "Extending the school day, making learning the center of students' lives, is much more important."

[Find out what the U.S. can learn from other countries.]

Others argue it's not about having more time, but about being smarter with the time already allotted.

"It's not that what is learned is so profoundly huge that we need more and more and more time to do it," David Conley, CEO of the Education Policy Improvement Center, a research organization, said during Monday's panel.

"We don't actually teach that much content over 12 years, if you really take a look at it," he added. "We're socializing people, we're wasting time, [and] we're having people forget what a noun is eight years in a row."

Instead of adding time, schools should add opportunities, such as internships and experiential learning programs, Conley said.

Schools that do extend the school day should use it as an opportunity to revamp the current model, which allots the same amount of time for each subject, Melissa Lazarín, director of education policy at the Center for American Progress, a nonprofit think tank, said during the panel discussion.

"When we talk about increasing learning time, it's not just about tacking on more time and doing more of the same," Lazarín said. "We're talking about redesigning the school day."

Administrators should use data to drive that redesign, she added, noting that student performance data can show educators where to focus their energy.

"Where are the gaps? [Are they] in reading and math? Are they in writing?" she said. "[Let] that guide where you allocate the existing and additional time."

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