The average length of the K-12 school day is 8:30 to 3:00, engaging U.S. students in school for 6.64 hours a day over the span of 180 school days. Underperforming schools and the lagging performance of U.S. students in comparison to other countries is a concern.
Some educators believe that extending the school day until 5:00 p.m. is the answer. Others believe that lengthening the school day is an expensive endeavor that won’t yield substantial results. Approximately 1,800 schools in the U.S. have extended learning hours, but there are many pros and cons of extended school days.
History of the School Schedule
The Agrarian calendar is rooted in the past. The school day was originally created to meet the needs of farmers. Children would get up early and help with chores, go to school and then help out on the farm until sundown. The school day had to accommodate available daylight and the requirements of helping with the family farm.
Review the Research
Data is an important variable if you’re considering the longer school days pros and cons list. Since the approach to curriculum development and pedagogical style varies by state and district, data must be disaggregated to evaluate specific impact.
Pro: In 2004, the school day was lengthened for a Massachusetts school to address the issue of underperforming students. By 2013, a dramatic improvement in scores was credited to the extended learning time.
Con: A longitudinal study in New Mexico looked at the performance difference in K-3 students from seven different school districts. While small gains were made in reading, math and writing, there were no statistically significant results for children in the areas of receptive language, social skills or vocabulary.
Impact on Students
When looking at the benefits of a longer school year, the opportunity for expanding subject matter and the individualized needs of students are factors.
Pro: An extended school day provides more time for students to learn and the possibility of providing individualized attention for students in need. Teachers can use more time in the day to go on field trips or expand content areas.
Con: Not all students need one-on-one assistance, and some may even experience boredom or burnout from the extended school day. Teachers would be required to reimagine their curriculum and would need extra time to develop a curriculum to fit an expanded day.
Consider a Change in Schedule
A change in schedule is an adjustment for school officials, students and families. In-depth consultation between all constituents reveals the pros and cons of extended school days.
Pro: An extended school day provides more flexibility for parents, eliminating the need for after-school care. Some families find that aligning the school day with typical parent work schedules is a family-friendly approach.
Con: A lengthened school day may impede upon extracurricular activities, especially in secondary education. Children need the opportunity to rest and re-energize, and they’re often overextended with activities, homework and part-time jobs.
Funding Disadvantages and Benefits of a Longer School Year
Budgetary requirements are an important part of a longer school days pros and cons list.
Pro: Education is a priority, and funding should not hold back efforts to provide more effective academic preparation for students. To be competitive in a global market, students need to be exposed to a wide variety of subject matter.
Con: School districts across the U.S. are struggling to make ends meet. Some are even cutting arts programs or shortening the school week to balance the budget. A longer school day would involve substantial funding for teacher salaries and facility maintenance. Instead, an investment should be made in improving teaching strategies and new technology that could transform the learning process.
Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years.