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Longer days do not mean better learning

September 28, 2009

It’s happened again.  Once again, you’re hearing that our kids need to be in school LONGER.  That they just aren’t spending enough time in school.

This is not a new proclamation.  There are several factions that believe our kids aren’t in school an adequate amount of time.  Today, however, in an AP article entitled, “More School: Obama would curtail vacation” Libby Quaid outlines our President’s beliefs for why kids should be in school longer. And, it just doesn’t make sense.

The argument seems to always go that our kids do not have enough learning time to learn everything they need. That more hours in a school day, more days in a school year, and/or fewer breaks and vacations would lead to increased academic achievement. Sounds good, right?

But what we don’t talk about is WHY our kids don’t have enough learning time.  As the article pointed out, in the US our kids spend more time in school than do kids in Asia — the ones who are consistenly out-performing our students in critical areas such as math and science. The Asian kids do have more actual days in school, but the time they spend learning in school is less than what our kids currently experience.

Care to hazard a guess why?  Well, when studies consistently show that our kids in US schools are losing 30/40/50% or more of what should be productive learning time to classroom disruption and behavior issues, it’s no wonder they aren’t learning. To put it in perspective, losing 30% of learning time, on average, is the same as losing 60 actual DAYS of instruction on the typical 180-day academic year.

Without dealing with that underlying issue, if we lengthen the school day or year, we STILL are losing a third of more of that now-longer time. Instead of 2 unproductive hours in a 6-hour learning day, we can waste 2.6 hours if we lengthen the day to 8 hours. Too much time lost.

And it’s not only time…it’s MONEY.  Never mind what the loss of productive time actually costs in terms of dollars (but if you want to see what I’m talking about, go to our interactive calculator at and plug in your own numbers).  Longer school days would mean we need more money to pay teachers for the additional time. We’ll need more administrator compensation because the schools would remain open longer. Oh, that also means heating/air conditioning/facilities costs go up because schools are serving students longer or for more days. More breakfasts and/or lunches will need to be prepared, and you’ll need to pay the servers more, too for their additional time.  Do you get my point?  Schools are already talking about how they don’t have the money they need to do what they need to do in their current year…how are they supposed to do MORE?

We do, however, have a way of solving this problem, and we can do it NOW. Simple.  Reduce the amount of productive time lost on behavior and discipline.  If we cut the amount of time lost from 40% to 20%, not only do we regain more than 20 days of productive instruction time, we’ll see improvements in overall class/school behavior, we’ll be able to more easily recruit and retain teachers, we’ll see gains in student achievement.

And, that last part is PROVEN.  CASEL is about to release a study that shows students who receive instruction in social skills (social/emotional learning) generally score 11 points higher on academic tests than do students who do NOT have that kind of learning.  We’ve seen that: schools that have integrated our programs into their curriculum report a 43% increase in students’ time on task, and they significantly outscore those schools that have not used our program, in a side-by-side comparision.

The point here is, it’s not so much about how LONG students are in school as it is what they do with the time they are there.  If we can work on adopting programs that increase the amount of productive learning, that’s an immediate pay-back to everyone in the school: the students, the teachers, the staff…and the community.  It doesn’t require additional budget and it doesn’t detract from the academic objectives. Our kids shouldn’t have to spend “full-time” in schools — they should have time to be “just kids.” That is also another form of learning, but we can’t overlook the well-being of the whole child just because we think “more academics” will lead to better outcomes.

Use time wisely because we never have enough time to waste.

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