Is a longer school year a reform worth considering? Or, is the cost too much and the payoff too little?

While 170 schools around the country have added school days, some Georgia students are returning to shorter schools years, a consequence of budget cuts. (AP Image)

While 170 schools around the country have added school days, some Georgia students are returning to shorter schools years, a consequence of budget cuts. (AP Image)

With some Georgia districts adopting a shorter school year to cope with budget cuts, I thought this New York Times story on the opposite trend was worth sharing.

The National Center on Time and Learning, a nonprofit research group in Boston, reports that about 170 schools — most of them charters — have extended their calendars to 190 days or longer, according to the Times story.

Here is an excerpt but try to read the full piece in the Times:

A growing group of education advocates is agitating for more time in schools, arguing that low-income children in particular need more time to catch up as schools face increasing pressure to improve student test scores. “It’s not as simple as ‘Oh, if we just went 12 hours every kid would be Einstein,’ ” said Chris Gabrieli, chairman of the Boston group. “On the other hand, the more time you spend practicing or preparing to do something, the better you get at it.”

Education advocates have been calling for more school time at least since the 1983 “Nation at Risk” report presented an apocalyptic vision of American education. Teachers’ unions, parents who want to preserve summers for family vacations and those who worry that children already come under too much academic stress argue that extended school time is not the answer. Research on longer school days or years also shows mixed results.

But studies also show that during the summer break, students — particularly those from low-income families — tend to forget what they learned in the school year. Getting back to school early, supporters of a longer calendar say, is one of the best ways to narrow an achievement gap between rich and poor students. Many charter schools, including those in the academically successful KIPP network, attribute their achievement in part to longer days and calendars.

Advocates of longer school years say that the 180-day school year is an outdated artifact. “The fact that our calendar has been based on the agrarian economy when almost none of our kids work in the field anymore,” said Arne Duncan, secretary of education, “doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

Yet several recent efforts to lengthen the school calendar have foundered. The Woodland Hills Academy in Pittsburgh extended its school year to 195 days in 2009, but this year it will return to the traditional 180-day calendar because of state budget cuts. Similarly, Parkside Elementary in Coral Springs, Fla., tried a 200-day calendar for one year before abandoning it because of insufficient financing.

Critics say that with so many schools already failing, giving them more time would do little to help students. “It is true that we have an unfair society, and it is true that kids who are coming from the poorer backgrounds and whose parents don’t do a lot of reading are losing reading skills over the summer,” said Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College. “But let’s look at other solutions.” He added, “Whatever job we give to the school system, they ruin it.”

Advocates say that schools need to plan carefully how they will use the extra time. Some say that adding the kinds of art, music and other activities that more affluent students typically get outside school is as important as beefing up academics.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

80 comments Add your comment

flipper

August 6th, 2012
12:06 pm

If low income students are failing… give he low income students who need it learning opportunities in the summer. Do not impose more boring class time on students who already are up to speed and who may very well have access to much more valuable experiences than public school in the summer. Focusing extra school days on the kids that need it still closes the achievement gap while saving districts money because they will not be having to educate kids who don’t need it.

skipper

August 6th, 2012
12:14 pm

It is hard enough to keep kids full attention in the regularly alloted time…..now (and I smell the left) folks think that a baby-sitting service is in order. Kids can learn plenty during the regular school day. The fact that some parents are not worth a toot will not mean a longer school day is better. And the fact that the study says lower income kids tend to forget again goes back to parenting. Godd Lord, let kids enjoy their summer; playing ball or whatever! The so-called “Experts” (with emphasis on the so-called) have not done a cotton-pickin’ thing to improve education. They just keep coming up with the feel-good remedy of the day. I know preparation is important…..but so is looking at the REAL reasond kids, especially those from lower income areas, are having difficulty. Until somebody tells the truth, everyone will dance around the topic, with imagined “solutions” that are based on nothing more than a “study” that another “study” could totally disprove!

Ole Guy

August 6th, 2012
12:16 pm

Gotta love these “studies”…during summer break, students, particularly those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, tend to forget what they learned during that “taxing academic school year”. Hells bells, I generally forgot all that stuff 5 minutes after walking…no, make that runing…out the door following that final bell.

But let’s get semi-serious for just a minute. As usual, the basic problem seems to become intertwined with all sort of extraneous issues. Kids aren’t going to forget all that good stuff because of longer or shorter school years, they “forget”…regardless of socioeconomic considerations…because they were never required to INTERNALIZE that which was presented to them in the educational experience.

Lets howbout we stop attributing problems, with the educational morrass, to non-issue considerations…you can lengthen/shorten the school year all you want…won’t make a gd bit of difference. What will make the big difference of ACTIVE PARTICIPATORY EDUCATION, and that means (once again) DEMAND max performance…no “at risk” nonesense. That’s simply official justification for less than optimal results. ONCE AGAIN…let’s stop babying these kids.

Stan the Man

August 6th, 2012
12:27 pm

Cause the University systems have got this thing figured out. You want to know who gets overpaid with little results…Research psychology professors from Boston University. People who have never been in a public school system classroom, but seem to be experts in educating kids gives their “expertise” in education for some reason. If this is so brilliant, why dont music theory professors sell their music? Economic “expert” professors fix our economy. We have too many cooks in the kitchen who make the rules, but have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to education. I don’t mind competition. Privatize everything if you want, give vouchers, longer school days, whatever…just PLEASE listen to good principals and teachers instead of over paid “RESEARCH” professors, who would not last one day in most public schools. You want to see an injustice of tax payer dollars…Look up professor salaries…see how many days they work…how many assistants and secretaries they have…and then complain about the type of students schools send them…sorry that statment got under my skin. “whatever job we give to the school system, they ruin it” because for the most part under the circumstances, we are given an impossible job.

skipper

August 6th, 2012
12:27 pm

ole guy,
Thats a “right-on”! Amazing…..our Coach had an “equilizer” that suddenly made more attentive students out of disruptive ones. And, we learned alot by repitition……even the slower ones in class knew their multiplication tables, as Ms. Dunn made each and every student go from one to twelve (all the ones; rather easy) then twos, threes, etc. and say them all in ten seconds each. The slowest person in class could do it in his sleep! I’m not saying it hasn’t evolutionized, but have we run past more than we have caught up with? We are too worried about not hurting folks feelings…………

mountain man

August 6th, 2012
12:30 pm

Should we go to a longer school year – only if we want our best to excell. That would be good for the top 10% and would allow them to progress faster.

But for the average student and much more so for the poor student, the lengthening of the school year will not make a difference (regular classes). If they don’t learn during the regular year, they won’t learn in the extended year (if they are even there – see absentism).

What should take place is that teachers should teach all year round (minus vacations, of course), but the summer instruction should be intensive instruction in low student:teacher ratio classes for those students who fail. This would entitle teachers to that needed raise. Then if the child STILL is not on-grade, they should be retained and forced to repeat the grade.

Tired

August 6th, 2012
12:31 pm

Would reducing the truancy rate have the same effect as lengthening the school year?

mountain man

August 6th, 2012
12:33 pm

Of course with the new Common Core standards or with block scheduling, where they teach more material sooner, maybe we need a longer school year.

mountain man

August 6th, 2012
12:35 pm

Tired – good point. If the current school year is 180 days but the average student attends 160 – if you lengthen the year, the student probably will then go 167 days. If you just put some good discipline on the parents, the child would probably go 167 days in 180, without the extrra cost.

skipper

August 6th, 2012
12:39 pm

mountain man,
Bingo….

Dr. John Trotter

August 6th, 2012
12:43 pm

A longer school year of students not trying, laying their heads on their desks and sleeping, or constantly disrupting the class with their antics? Oh, this is going to “improve” public education? Hardly. Ha! These folks just don’t get it. A longer school year won’t do a darn thing to improve public education. Not a darn thing.

When these politicians, policy-maker, educrats, and superintendents get their heads out of their a$ses and realize that trying to improve public education without first addressing (2) motivation — or, a lack of motivation — to learn and (2) student discipline – or, a lack thereof – is like pi&sing into a tsunami, then there might be a flicker of hope down this long, dark tunnel. Until then, these educational bozos are actually comical, starting with the U. S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

http://www.georgiateachersspeakout.com

http://www.theteachersadvocate.com

Jefferson

August 6th, 2012
12:44 pm

Americans that work full time for the most part work everyday during the week, why not learn the same way. Life a full time event.

Lady GaGa

August 6th, 2012
12:46 pm

We should have had a longer school year for a long time. We need new ideas. Obviously what we’re doing isn’t totally working. All students could benefit from it, poor kids could get caught up and the others could get more enrichment to push them ahead. Educators should be in the classroom year round anyway- there’s so much they could be doing (enrichment, tutoring, science labs & experiments, field trips, technology, running a business, extra-curricular activities, college and career planning, personal finance classes) the list goes on and on.

Dr. John Trotter

August 6th, 2012
12:46 pm

That should have been (1) and (2), not (2) and (2). Ha! Sorry.

William Casey

August 6th, 2012
12:53 pm

I am against a “one size fits all” approach for a number of reasons. However, in the early grades, an intense “mini-mester,” leaving breaks in late May and late July, might be useful for students performing below grade level. I would favor this ONLY if the time were spent on the fundamentals– reading, writing and arithmatic. Realistically, in this “age of austerity,” this won’t happen even though it would probably be cost-effective long term.

Dunwoody Mom

August 6th, 2012
1:01 pm

I wonder if we will ever get “advice” from individuals not involved with the Gates Foundation or Broad Foundation to give us some “real” educational suggestions.

I agree, a one-size fits all is ridiculous. School districts should determine their calendars based on what is best for their students.

skipper

August 6th, 2012
1:05 pm

William Casey,
Good point by you, too. Even the kids in class (ESPECIALLY the kids in class) can tell who is slower and who is not. For us older folks, do you remember SRA reading? You went to a different color for each advancement. Aqua, purple, orange, olive, blue, brown, green, red (tan and gold were added in third or fourth grade.) Every kid knew that whoever was still in aqua or purple a few weeks down the road had SOME kind of difficulty…proving that one size does not fit all. Extra instruction for these kids was beneficial…….perhaps in todays model we just need to realize who can or cannot compete and help them catch up. A longer school year (demographics be darned) is not the answer.

bootney farnsworth

August 6th, 2012
1:14 pm

I have been a long time fan of year ’round education.

Dunwoody Mom

August 6th, 2012
1:25 pm

It would be interesting to see achievement data of school systems which are now on “year-round” schools compared to their data prior to converting to year round.

What's Best for Kids?

August 6th, 2012
1:25 pm

6 weeks on, two weeks off…done!

Would just like a full year

August 6th, 2012
1:31 pm

After 4 years of furloughs and a shortened calendar, 180 days would be nice. every study that compares the US to better performing countries points out our short school year, yet we don’t want to pay for what we have much less more.

Mountain Man

August 6th, 2012
1:45 pm

“6 weeks on, two weeks off…done!

You DO realize there are 6.5 of these 8-week periods in a year, right?

Bernie

August 6th, 2012
1:58 pm

America is reducing its time of educating its children. The Chinese and Indians are increasing their’s. America is no longer producing top Scientists, Engineers, Mathematicians. China and India’s children are routinely the top students in the high schools and colleges they attend. You do the Math…..texting,sexting and video games are the things America’s children are interested in. Chinese and Indian children are now many of its creators. America continue your reductions, continue with your proposed chart and voucher school plans. Your future will not be as bright as it once was.

Former History Teacher

August 6th, 2012
2:19 pm

Countries that continually outperform the US in educational standards and achievments have much longer school years and more frequent breaks. Standards are higher and there is little dumbing down of the curriculum. Here in the US, in almost every state, we excuse poor performance for a variety of made up reasons. The result is lowering standards rather than raising the standards and our expectations.

We have become a society that relies heavily on excuses to justify our slipping standards. Children from poverty stricken backgrounds need more time in school as do children from affluent backgrounds who simply do not care. We need to raise standards in ALL of our schools. Good teachers should be rotated to all schools regardless of where they are in a county/school system. Bad teachers should not be able to hide behind tenure and should be eliminated. Let’s face it–teachers are responsible, along with parents and children, if the kids are not learning in their classrooms. All share responsibility. Teachers who pass children to the next grade when they have not mastered the material should be immediately sacked. No discussion or excuses.

As a teacher one of the most difficult problems I had was at the start of school many students could not pay attention longer than 5 or so minutes at a time—about the length of time between commericals on a TV show.
Something that could be avoided with a longer school year.

edugator

August 6th, 2012
2:40 pm

Bernie is spot on. Most of those nations of who seem to be achieving so much have longer school years, by as much as 30-40 days. I’m not going to go that far, but two added weeks makes a lot of sense. Perhaps the problem is the long days we have. Instruction over a longer period of time, rather than a longer period of instruction is the way to go.

ColonelJack

August 6th, 2012
3:12 pm

In 23 years of teaching, I expected a lot from my students. I expected them to master the material I taught, and – up until the middle of the past decade – they did, with 90% on average meeting or exceeding expectations on whichever tests we were using.

Then, for some silly reason, the focus in our system shifted from *what* we were teaching to *how* we were to teach it … and it didn’t matter if the method a teacher used was effective or not, everybody had to be doing it the same way. (Never mind that kids learn differently; the teaching had to be done in the same way.) I had a very difficult time adapting to this new way of doing things; so difficult, in fact, that I finally gave up. After 21 straight “satisfactory” evaluations, I earned two “unsatisfactory” ones because my teaching style didn’t fit into their box. So I retired.

Longer school year? Ha. Let teachers do their jobs during the school year we currently have (and keep administrators OUT of the way) and there will be improvements.

living in an outdated ed system

August 6th, 2012
3:15 pm

Longer school year – MAYBE

Longer school day – NO

Hillbilly D

August 6th, 2012
3:24 pm

I’m dead set against a longer school year. Kids still need time to be kids. When I was a boy, I spent my summers with my Grandparents and I learned things that I never could’ve learned in school. I wouldn’t trade any of that for any amount of money, or anything else.

For those who need the extra time, there is still summer school (I assume) or they can be held back a year.

Then, for some silly reason, the focus in our system shifted from *what* we were teaching to *how* we were to teach it … and it didn’t matter if the method a teacher used was effective or not, everybody had to be doing it the same way.

Interesting point, Colonel Jack. When I was in school, all those years ago, a few teachers stood out to me. Time has faded the memories but there’s still a half dozen or so that I remember as having a big effect on my learning. They each had their own methods, that worked for them. Trying to put square pegs in round holes, or vice versa, never works.

living in an outdated ed system

August 6th, 2012
3:28 pm

And remember, it’s the QUALITY of time spent learning, not QUANTITY. We’re not educating our kids well right now, so why do we want to give them more bad medicine?

Son of a teacher

August 6th, 2012
3:39 pm

The last time I looked, and it was within the past eighteen months, there is NO solid empirical evidence that a longer school year raises achievement levels or increases retention. Charter schools are not succeeding because they have longer school years, they are succeeding because the parents are far more involved/engaged with their child’s school and with that school’s teachers, who are revitalized by getting admin out of their day to day lives. We keep looking for the magic bullet when there is none and never will be.

ABC

August 6th, 2012
3:41 pm

So my kid has to be stuck in a classroom all summer instead of playing, swimming, running, and exploring because other kids are slow? HELL NO.

If they some people suffer from “brain drain” or need “catching up” they can go to summer school. Mine will be at the pool, at camp, at the beach, or just in my back yard dreaming and playing.

Atticus Joad

August 6th, 2012
3:42 pm

Nobody has 180 teaching days as it is. At best in my high school, I have 150 or fewer actual teaching days due to testing and retesting and other distractions.

Lee

August 6th, 2012
3:43 pm

Did this remind anyone else of the punchline “We’re losing money on every transaction, but making it up on volume”?

Jefferson

August 6th, 2012
4:08 pm

Lazy is lazy.

Pride and Joy

August 6th, 2012
4:09 pm

flipper is right, for those that really need it, summer school is good. My kids have better learning opportunities in the summer than a traditional public school can provide.

Pride and Joy

August 6th, 2012
4:16 pm

A longer school year won’t improve learning. A longer year means teachers will relax and think “I got all year to teach the same things I was teaching in nine months prior year” and….let’s get real here….are teachers going to work full time like the rest of the workers in the United States? Not many are likely to, especially if we don’t increase their pay.
Put slow learners in remedial classes before school starts so that they’ll be up to speed by the time the rest of the class arrives in the Fall. Instead of being reactive, be proactive.

Public HS Teacher

August 6th, 2012
4:17 pm

Sure. They will add 60 days of school – oh, and also add 60 “furlough” days for teachers to save money. LOL!

Bernie

August 6th, 2012
4:19 pm

Maureen, The landing of the spacecraft Curiosity earlier this morning offers proof beyond all reasonable logic. If one were to go back and review all the participants that celebrated that magnificent achievement at the Jet Propulsion Lab and see who and what group of American citizens were missing in the celebration.

Not one African American Male or Female was present dressed in the politically correct dress code of Khaki pants and blue emblematic sport shirt. It reminded me of what the faces of Georgia’s Charter Schools and the proposed school voucher plan would look like in the coming years. Surely out of the millions of intelligent African American students that could found across this great Nation, that at least one could be found as a willing and competent contributor to this great crowning moment.

That Act alone demonstrates at least for one community that longer hours are not only needed, but a required necessity for them to remain inclusive into a ever changing technological society that is so willingly to leave them out in the cold and far away from such gains.

Beverly Fraud

August 6th, 2012
4:20 pm

In a word, no. The reason. At the FUNDAMENTAL CORE OF OUR BEING, “we the people” are not willing to have HONEST discussions about education.

Not willing to talk about discipline.

Not willing to talk about the role of parents.

Not willing to talk about how we set teachers up to fail, THEN blame them for failing.

Not willing to talk about BLOATED central office staff.

Not willing to set teachers up to SUCCEED, so that even good teachers can feel comfortable that when peers are “counseled” it’s done with INTEGRITY.

For whatever reason, we’ve just lost the WILL to be honest; yet somehow, someway, we expect things to “improve”?

WHY would we expect that?

another comment

August 6th, 2012
4:23 pm

Let the lazy ill equiped parents pay a penality with their $4,500 or so tax refund and send their children to year round school. After all they can then receive the free breakfest and lunch. My children will be at home with me enjoying being kids, swimming, going to visit realitives, going to the beach, going fishing on the intercoastal water way with their uncle. As it is we only have one month in common to meet during the summer with their cousin’s from up North during the summer.

When we were growing up the slackers went to Summer School, the rest of us go the summer off. Your parents paid for summer schoool and had to drive you back and forth. So you knew you better not get summer school. Who was going to cut the acres and acres of grass that we had if anyone did?

Beverly Fraud

August 6th, 2012
4:30 pm

“Research on longer school days or years also shows mixed results.”

Is there ANY “reform” that doesn’t get “mixed results”?

Oh that’s right…DISCIPLINE.

Can you point to any study where, when chronically and severely disruptive students were removed, in order to maintain the sanctity of the learning environment, learning didn’t improve?

Even one?

bob

August 6th, 2012
4:30 pm

Another example of liberals punishing all for the action of a few. If some low income students need time to catch up then those students should be in school, the rest should not be punished by sitting in class with them. ” Advocates of longer school years say that the 180-day school year is an outdated artifact. “The fact that our calendar has been based on the agrarian economy when almost none of our kids work in the field anymore,” said Arne Duncan, secretary of education, “doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.” That calendar worked fine until the schools were dumbed down by letting kids graduate with 6th grade skills. The parents of the kids that cause the problem will be rewarded with year round school, they will now have a year round babysitter.

Beverly Fraud

August 6th, 2012
4:34 pm

“The fact that our calendar has been based on the agrarian economy when almost none of our kids work in the field anymore,” said Arne Duncan, secretary of education, “doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

Let me tell you what doesn’t make sense; that the Secretary of Education would come to Atlanta twice to POLITICALLY PROP UP the so called “award winning” education who was at the heart and soul of THE biggest cheating scandal in American educational history.

What makes even less sense is that he believes, after doing THAT, that anybody would believe anything that came out of his mouth ever again.

long time educator

August 6th, 2012
4:34 pm

I think we should look at the resources we have (staff, time, money, and buildings) and use them in the most efficient way. Why should a band teacher become the chief financial officer of the largest employer in my county? Kindergartners and prek are most attentive in the morning and have lunch, recess and pe in the afternoon. If half days won’t work for working parents, then pay parapros to babysit in the afternoon. We need to look at everything we have always done and question its efficiency, and that includes the length of the day and the school year.

Hillbilly D

August 6th, 2012
4:42 pm

“The fact that our calendar has been based on the agrarian economy when almost none of our kids work in the field anymore,” said Arne Duncan, secretary of education, “doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

I’ve always thought that was a bit of a misconception. My Grandpa told me, that when he was going to school in the 1890’s, at the one room school house, they only went to school for 3 months during the dead of winter. The rest of the year, they were needed on the farm. They had about a week or two after lay-by time in the summer and that was for revival.

Eddie

August 6th, 2012
4:43 pm

Is this a true extending of the year or away to give teachers more holiday time throught out the school year. Having the school year extended by 15 days and then turn around have additional five days at Christmas break added or 5 days at spring break etc. Who does that help?

yuzeyurbrane

August 6th, 2012
4:43 pm

And there are Georgia counties with 140 school days. Let’s cut funding more and get more proof that public schools are failing. Let’s shoot for 100 days of trade school training.

Old timer

August 6th, 2012
4:45 pm

Amen, Dr. trotter……

Old timer

August 6th, 2012
4:49 pm

There was an experiment in Nashville,TN schools. Schools in low performing areas were allowed to add extra days and extra time to the days….well guess what??? Parents complained that their child was being picked on, discriminated against….and so on. They then made the extra time optional ….no one came, or rather so few that the program could not be supported. Now all the schools have the same hours.

catlady

August 6th, 2012
4:50 pm

I have to laugh out loud. We can’t afford 180 days, and we should go more? Who will pay the bus gas, lights/ac, salaries? Then you have federal lunch costs, somewhat different now because the USDA/schools are giving meals 5 days a week at central sites for ALL kids (not just poor, not just school-age) up to age 18.

Here is an idea: Have parents work with/pay attention to their kids in the summer. That is what my folks did, and what I did.