Good schools are relentless about basics: School day length

31 Oct

Rosalind Rossi, education reporter for the Chicago Sun Times is reporting in the article, 2011 Illinois school report cards: Top schools have longer days.

The 10 highest-ranking suburban neighborhood elementary schools all have longer days for kids than the typical Chicago public school — but shorter ones than those advocated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and city public school officials.

Chicago’s current typical 5-hour and 45-minute elementary school day — usually without a regular recess — looks paltry compared to a top-scoring 2011 suburban average of just under 6½ hours that includes daily recess, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis indicates.

However, Chicago’s proposed 7½-hour day would keep city elementary kids in school an hour more than their top-scoring suburban counterparts. Such a day is appealing even to some suburban parents.

The Mid Continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) has great information posted at its site about school day length.

According to McRel in the article, Extended School Days and School Years:

Does more time in school matter?

Several scholars have argued that simply extending school time in and of itself will not produce the desired results. Larry Cuban, a Stanford University professor of education, has argued for example that what matters most is not the quantity but the quality of time students and teachers spend together in the classroom (2008).

In our 2000 meta-analysis of the impact of school, teacher, and student-level variables on achievement, McREL concluded that student achievement can be strongly affected if schools optimize their use of instructional time.

In 1998 WestEd researchers Aronson et al. examined the research on time and learning and arrived at three conclusions:

  • There is little or no relationship between student achievement and the total number of days or hours students are required to attend school.
  • There is some relationship between achievement and engaged time, that subset of instructional time when students are participating in learning activities.
  • The strongest relationship exists between academic learning time and achievement.

However, in recent years some notable extended time initiatives have produced gains in test scores, graduation rates, and college attendance, including the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), which increases the amount of time students spend in school by nearly 60%, and Massachusetts 2020. Conversely, a $100 million effort in Miami to extend school days by one hour and add 10 days to the calendar produced no significant benefits.

The key seems to be longer time spent in instructional activities.

The Center for American Progress has an issues brief, Expanded Learning Time By the Numbers. Among the findings are:

Expanded learning time basics

655: The number of expanded learning time schools in 36 states, more than a quarter of which are standard district public schools.

300: The recommended minimum number of additional hours that schools should add to their school calendar to provide students more learning time and opportunities for enrichment activities.

6 to 20 percent: The increase in a school’s budget, depending on the staffing model, to expand learning time for students by 30 percent.

90 percent: The proportion of ELT schools that considered their longer day or year to be essential in meeting their educational goals in a survey of nearly 250 ELT schools.

20 percent: The increase in annual classroom hours that experienced teachers say they need to effectively teach the four core academic subjects—English language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science.

Other countries are racing ahead in education

197: The average number of days that a middle school teacher in Finland, Japan, and Korea spends on instruction per year compared to the 180 days in the United States.

10,000: The number of hours researchers estimate that students need to achieve expertise. There are approximately 800 annual instructional hours a year in U.S. schools, which means it would take 12.5 years for students to participate in 10,000 hours of schooling, given no loss of learning during the summer.

Students at low-income schools are being left behind

3,000: The average number of words in a low-income kindergartener’s vocabulary compared to the 20,000 in a middle-class kindergartener’s vocabulary.

Sixth or seventh: The grade at which approximately half of ninth graders at high-poverty schools are reading when they enter high school.

32 million: The size of the gap in word exposure between children in professional families (45 million words) and welfare families (13 million) that has accumulated by age 4. Children in professional families will have heard almost as many words by age 1 (11.2 million) as children in welfare families have heard by age 4 (13 million).

1.67: The average minutes per day that third, fourth, and fifth graders in high-poverty schools received explicit vocabulary instruction, or about 100 seconds.

Four: The maximum number of minutes per day teachers in low-income schools spent engaging their first-grade students with informational texts rich in academic language and content-area vocabulary, often because these resources were unavailable.

Expanded learning time and a focus on the basics can yield results.    

Dave E. Marcotte and Benjamin Hansen have an interesting report in Education Next about the effect of time in school. In Time for School? Marcotte and Hansen report:

Our work confirms that increasing instructional time could have large positive effects on learning gains. Encouraging schools and districts to view the school calendar as a tool in the effort to improve learning outcomes should be encouraged in both word and policy.

Research confirms there are certain traits of successful schools.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, Chapter 1, first line
Russian mystic & novelist (1828 – 1910)

So it is with schools. There are certain elements that successful schools share. The Wisconsin Department of Education has a good guide about successful schools. Chapter One, Characteristics of Successful Schools , lists key elements.

Like, unhappy families, failing schools are probably failing in their own way.


Dave E. Marcotte and Benjamin Hansen , Time for School?Education Next, Winter 2010 / Vol. 10, No. 1

Education Secretary Arne Duncan on School Day’s Length video

It seems everything old becomes new once again, although a relentless focus on the basics never went out of style.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

2 Responses to “Good schools are relentless about basics: School day length”


  1. Should summer break be shorter for some children? « drwilda - May 27, 2012

    […] The key seems to be longer time spent in instructional activities.       […]

  2. More schools trying longer school years « drwilda - August 6, 2012

    […] The key seems to be longer time spent in instructional activities.       […]

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