Next year, 40 schools in five states will participate in a three-year pilot program to extend the school year by 300 or more hours. Research indicates that properly applied, more instructional time is a positive factor in student achievement. As secretary of education, Arne Duncan has pushed hard to get state policymakers to increase learning time as part of the continuing effort to retool the nation’s public schools. He argues that extending the school day or year is an investment that will pay dividends, as teachers are able to spend more time working with students, addressing problems and improving performance.
Duncan points out, too, that the typical six-hour, 180-day American school year struggles to accommodate the intensive instructional and enrichment programs necessary to prepare students, particularly in low-achieving districts, for the future. Further, it is much shorter than in competitor nations with high-achieving school systems, among them Germany, China and South Korea.
Extending the school day or year is hardly a novel concept. Ohio’s former governor, Ted Strickland, even proposed a helpful 20-day extension in his evidence-based model to overhaul public education. Unfortunately, the idea is not wildly popular, either, because of the additional operational expense.
Small as it is, the pilot program is an encouraging step forward, giving participating states opportunities to confront obstacles — funding, in particular — as they consider scaling up the program. It is only appropriate that the feds are chipping in funds to get the pilot rolling.