Teachers, Researchers Praising Longer School Days

Schools across the country are busy adjusting to a new year, and in some cases, a longer school day.

Students at Casimir Pulaski Elementary School in Meriden, Connecticut, are arriving back to school to 100 extra minutes of school each day.  This will be the third consecutive year of longer days.

“The kids are incredibly excited to come to school, more than I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Dave Wheeler, who has taught at Pulaski since it opened in 1972 and says the longer days have also been a “booster” for him late in his career. He wasn’t always so certain.

The idea of a longer school day was first discussed two years ago.  At that time, Wheeler wondered if the children would be able to handle the extra time each day.  But attendance is up, reaching into the upper 90th percentile, and student achievement is up on math and reading exams.

Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said that “additional learning time is a promising strategy to help ensure that all our students remain on track to graduate college- and career-ready.”

An additional study out of Harvard University found that an additional 300 hours of instructional time and “high-dosage tutoring” led to increased academic achievements.

“Time alone is not necessarily going to give you that student impact,” senior director for the National Center on Time & Learning Robert Travaglini said. “It’s how you use that time … It’s really how you structure the day.”

The school is not the only one to feature longer hours.  Fifteen districts, the Alliance Districts, within the state qualify for state funding to allow for longer hours, either by attaching extra hours at the end of each day or holding school sessions on weekends or during the summer break.  According to Meriden Superintendent Mark Benigni, the cost breaks down to about an additional $1,000 per student.

“The school day now features some of the hands-on enrichment that we know students love,” Benigni said, “Things that quite honestly had been stripped from schools across the nation” to make time for improving test scores. “We are putting back some of the fun learning activities we know engage students and make school fun.”

In order to allow teachers to still work their regular number of hours they have either an early or late shift.  Some work the entire longer day and teach an enrichment class in the late afternoon.

A similar extension of the school day is happening in two schools in Florida, where an hour of schooling is being attached to each day according to a state mandate.  The schools ranked among the 300 lowest performing schools in the state last year.

Principals in the schools say that the extra hour allows for more flexibility during the school day.  Teachers use the time for extra reading and writing instruction.

Pomona Middle School in East Ramapo, New York is also introducing longer school days this year, where students will be encouraged, not required, to stay for an enrichment program in the 9th and 10th periods until 5:30pm.

Conflicting information has been released from the district as to whether students are required to attend.  While parents had heard from East Ramapo officials that their children could be dismissed for after-school sports programs and other extra-curricular activities, state Education Department spokeswoman Jeanne Beattie said that the grant being used to fund the extra hours would “not be implemented on a voluntary basis.”

It is unclear how many students need to attend in order to keep the grant.

“There’s not an opt-out provision (in the grant) but parents always have that right,” Superintendent Joel Klein told The Journal News on Thursday.

Any work completed during the extra time will not be graded.  It is simply for additional academic support.  Officials are hopeful that the extra time will help students perform better on state tests and raise graduation rates within the state.

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