Starting with the 2013–2014 school year, students in five states will be spending 300 more hours per year at their desks. Schools in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee will extend their time with students, individually choosing to accumulate the extra hours through longer days, longer school years or a combination thereof.
Advocates claim that this extra time, by providing more student–teacher contact hours, will give a needed boost to underperforming schools. Kuss Middle School in Fall River, Massachusetts, evidences this boost.
In 2005, Kuss was labeled as “chronically underperforming.” When Massachusetts began to subsidize longer days with an extra $1,300 per student in 2007, Kuss put the extra 300 hours into place as a test run. The test run proved positive, and Kuss has kept up with the extra hours, starting the school day at 7:10 a.m., much earlier than most schools. This early first bell gives students an extra ninety minutes with their teachers every day and has dramatically increased results on standardized testing scores in math and reading. Additionally, the longer day has allowed more time for extracurricular activities, such as art, dance and music. Since 2007, Kuss’s reputation as underperforming has faded away, and enrollment has increased dramatically, even extending to a wait list.
Another school that employs this extra hours method is Saltonstall School in Salem, Massachusetts. Saltonstall was developed in 1995 as a “break the mold” type of school, a K–8 that has completely turned away from the regular school schedule. At Saltonstall, days run from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The school year is longer as well, modifying the calendar to stretch all the way until the end of July. With this method, students attend school in six- to seven-week sessions, taking a weeklong break in between. Longer days have also allowed Saltonstall to create Friday Clubs, two hours a week that students participate in a chosen special interest club run by parents or volunteers.
Though some believe that schools simply need to make better use of the time they already have, the benefits for students of a longer school day appear to be myriad. Many schools are already working together with teachers to make longer days viable and working with unions to make longer days voluntary and with better pay.
With the nineteen schools in Massachusetts and a good deal more throughout the country that already employ the longer days, there seems to be promise that the initiative will become customary. Fall River Superintendent Meg Mayo-Brown has already seen a change in her own child, a student at Kuss Middle School, since the added hours. She says she is “able to see as a parent how engaged [her] child was at school. He wanted to go each and every day.” Hopefully, this positive change for Mayo-Brown’s child will be observed in other students as the initiative begins more trials next school year.
“Experts Challenge High Schools to Revamp Outdated School Day, Year,” U.S News & World Report, December 2, 2012.
“Longer School Days Take Hold in Massachusetts,” CBS Evening News website, March 10, 2013.