What is the cost of Gov. Christie’s longer school days plan?

Gov. Christie’s proposal to expand classroom time has people asking: “How much will this cost?”

Shedding some light on the question is a new report from the National Center on Time and Learning. “Financing Expanded Learning Time in Schools” examined five of the schools which have increased time in the classroom to help improve achievement. The study found that one model didn’t work for all schools, but rather “educators need to forge their own unique paths.”

Each school in the report had its own unique schedule and most chose to use the extra time for tutoring, enrichment classes and teacher development. The schools used funding from federal, state and local sources as well as money from charitable sources.  The range of expenses varied.

An elementary school in Arizona added 132 hours to the school year at a cost of $290 per student, while a school in Massachusetts added 540 hours at a cost of $1,695 a student. When calculated as cost per hour per student, the additional expenses ranged from $2.20 to $5.23.

The center’s president, Jennifer Davis, said that most schools went with the more affordable option of lengthening school days, with one, Edreira Academy, opting for both. Students at Edreira attend school eight hours a day for 200 days out of the year. The cost for this school is $3.18 per hour per student. A large amount of this expense is to cover additional salaries and busing for an additional 20 days.

Principal Howard Teitelbaum says his school has a low turnover, and his teachers make more because they work more. He insists the schedule is created to enhance student interest and energy and starts with classes like art and music first to encourage students to come to school on time.  Students attend their core classes like math and language arts in the middle of the day, and their electives like drama and government at the end of the day.

“The longer day allows us to have a richer experience for the kids, a broader curriculum,” he said. “This might be their only chance to explore another language or use this type of technology.”

He insists that the added days allow teachers to meet their students’ needs by giving them extra time to add more subjects and find different ways to approach them. The extra month also cuts down on summer learning loss, which takes pressure off the teachers.

According to Davis, 12 states have passed laws that increase learning time in public schools. She feels the key to successful programs are ones that are rooted in community needs.  She says that for most people, “it’s just logical that more time on task is going to be beneficial” and encourages the governor’s people to:

“Take their time … to learn about the research, maybe visit high-performing expanded-learning schools to get a sense of the schedules that are making a difference. You cannot mandate all at once.”