In a recent interview, President Obama said: “We now have our kids go to school about one month less than most advanced countries. And that month makes a difference.” A recent research synthesis, the first on this topic, has shown that there is some research to support expanded learning time initiatives. The authors of the synthesis screened approximately 1,390 studies related to expanded school year and 818 studies related to expanded school day in elementary, middle, and high schools. Due to the limited number of studies published on the topic, the synthesis included studies with varying rigor of their design. The synthesis focused on the 15 studies which included academic outcomes. Of these studies, three included high schools, and the other 12 studies focused only on elementary and middle schools. One comparative study of rural high schools in Virginia found a negative association between a longer school day and grade point average of students in the eighth, ninth, and 10th grades; however, lengthening the school day was associated with a better grade point average (GPA) of 11th and 12th grade students compared to students in schools with a traditional schedule. A second study, conducted in Detroit, Michigan, found that adding 15 days to the school year benefited elementary school students, although no positive effects were reported for high school students. Finally, a more recent study examined the relationship between the length of the school year and student achievement in Wisconsin schools. Results indicated that increasing school time led to a small but statistically significant increase in scores on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) in 10th grade mathematics. The limited research base is not sufficient to determine the effectiveness of increased learning time initiatives at the high school level. Additionally, schools that implement expanded learning time may vary considerably in terms of management (e.g., charter vs. non-charter), staffing (e.g., hiring staff for the expanded part of the school day versus keeping the same staff), and use of time (e.g., use of time for teacher collaboration, professional development, and enrichment activities for students). This variety makes it even harder to use rigorous study designs that can produce reliable evidence. Other determinants such as student needs, available resources, and current school organizational and instructional practices should play a key role in decision making about increased learning time initiatives.
Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.