On Monday, five states announced that they would add at least 300 hours of learning time to some schools in the fall of 2013. These states—Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee— are working with the Ford Foundation and National Center on Time & Learning to roll out this initiative in two stages. In 2013-2014, 35 schools that enroll about 17,500 students will increase learning time by either lengthening the school day, adding days to the school year, or both. Over the next three years, 40 more schools will follow suit.
How will schools use that extra time? Schools may provide longer core academic classes, tutoring for struggling students, or electives like art and music (which are often cut to provide more time for tested subjects.) Research shows that an extended day helps ensure that low-income students—like their more affluent peers— have access to additional support and extracurricular activities. Mike Feinberg, one of the founders of KIPP, credits their extended day and year as a critical piece of their success; “More Time” is one of KIPP’s Five Pillars, the core beliefs that guide each school.
But research is mixed on the effectiveness of more hours on student achievement. “Less time may be the cause of poor performance, but that doesn’t mean that more time is necessarily the cure,” writes Elena Silva in Off the Clock: What More Time Can (and Can’t) Do for School Turnarounds. Extended learning time can also be costly if districts provide increased pay for increased hours—especially when most schools already have tight budgets. During last spring’s Chicago Teachers Union protest, for example, one of the major sticking points was additional compensation for longer school days. To offset the costs of this new project, participating districts in the five states will have funding from a combination of district, state, and federal funds, with the two collaborating nonprofits also pitching in.
Mike Feinberg says if you “take away time, [you] take away learning.” The truth is more nuanced. As we’ve highlighted in the past, successful schools don’t think of extended time as a check box for school improvement; a longer day and year means that school leaders can restructure schools to serve their students more effectively. Ultimately, extended learning time should be “less about time and more about quality teaching and learning.”