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Are You Ready for a Longer Day and School Year?


The New York Times reported that President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan say that American kids spend too little time in school, putting them at a disadvantage with other students around the globe.

”Our school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy and not too many of our kids are working the fields today,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

”Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here,” Duncan told the AP. ”I want to just level the playing field.”

While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days, it’s not true they all spend more time in school.

Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests — Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the U.S. (180 days).

Charter schools are known for having longer school days or weeks or years. For example, kids in the KIPP network of 82 charter schools across the country go to school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., more than three hours longer than the typical day. They go to school every other Saturday and for three weeks in the summer. KIPP eighth-grade classes exceed their school district averages on state tests.

In Massachusetts’ expanded learning time initiative, early results indicate that kids in some schools do better on state tests than do kids at regular public schools. The extra time, which schools can add as hours or days, is for three things: core academics — kids struggling in English, for example, get an extra English class; more time for teachers; and enrichment time for kids.

Regular public schools are adding time, too, though it is optional and not usually part of the regular school day. Their calendar is pretty much set in stone. Most states set the minimum number of school days at 180 days, though a few require 175 to 179 days.

Disadvantaged kids, on the whole, make no progress in the summer, Alexander said. Some studies suggest they actually fall back. Wealthier kids have parents who read to them, have strong language skills and go to great lengths to give them learning opportunities such as computers, summer camp, vacations, music lessons, or playing on sports teams.

Extra time is not cheap. The Massachusetts program costs an extra $1,300 per student, or 12 percent to 15 percent more than regular per-student spending, said Jennifer Davis, a founder of the program.

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