In the United States, many children find themselves falling behind on their benchmarks that are needed for basic scholastic achievement. Once a child falls behind their grade level, it can be difficult for them to catch back up. This is especially true for difficult subjects, such as mathematics or reading.
One of the solutions to this issue is to extend the length of the school day. This extension may be as little as 30 minutes, but some districts have implemented up to 2 additional hours of schooling every day.
The primary benefit of a longer school day is that it provides students with more time for learning. Teachers can provide more 1-on-1 time with each student in their classroom, allowing for specific weaknesses to be personally addressed. Trouble areas for each student can have education plans implemented to correct them, even if an IEP isn’t mandated for that student. Even intensive tutoring could be implemented.
As for the disadvantage of a longer school day, quantity doesn’t necessarily equate to quality. The fact that students are falling behind on their scholastic benchmarks is evidence that the current teaching structure, curriculum, and/or environment isn’t working for that student. Instead of making a student endure an ineffective system for a longer period each day, a better solution would be to improve the quality contacts for those individual students.
Here are some additional pros and cons of a longer school day to consider and discuss as well.
What Are the Pros of a Longer School Day?
1. It matches the class schedule to a parent’s work schedule.
In many US school districts, the first class begins 1-2 hours after most parents need to be at work. The final class ends 1-2 hours before the work day ends for most parents. By extending the length of the school day, parents can potentially save some money on child care because their schedules will better match. If nothing else, household transportation costs can be reduced by synching up the schedules.
2. It provides additional learning time for other subjects.
In an era when school districts face tight budgets and limited resources, the creative subjects tend to be the first ones to go. Subjects like music, art, and physical education tend to be cut because they aren’t tested in a standardized way. By having longer school days, it would be possible to add these subjects back into local curriculums so that students can benefit from a well-rounded education.
3. It could reduce the amount of homework sent home.
Many teachers send homework with their students at the end of the day or the week as a way to supplement the learning process. By extending the length of a school day, it would make it possible to reduce or eliminate the amount of homework that is sent to students. That lessens the burden on parents to be teachers at home, which can be difficult in an era when Common Core mathematics has proven to be difficult to understand.
4. Optional courses or recreational activities could be part of the school day.
Although a longer school day means less free time, certain components of school could be included as part of the day so that the loss is tempered. Sports practices could be part of the final period of the day. Certain recreational activities, such as swimming, could be included as part of the curriculum. By surveying what students want to learn outside of school, a district can create a comprehensive plan that still encourages passions to be pursued while educational opportunities are extended.
5. It could create longer family weekends.
Many employers offer their workers the option to work four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days, creating a three-day weekend for that employee. Schools which extend the length of their contact time could do the same thing. That means the potential of creating longer family weekends, when schedules can be synced up, and that increases parent-child contact time.
What Are the Cons of a Longer School Day?
1. It limits student activities outside of school.
If children are spending more time in a classroom, then that means they’re spending less free time outside of it. A longer school day means less time for students to get involved in programs like 4-H, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, or organized sports. Instead of pursuing something they are passionate about, like gymnastics or marital arts, students will be sitting at a table or desk, trying to retain information from textbooks while being told what they need to learn instead of learning what they’re passionate about.
2. It results in fatigue.
Children who become tired are less likely to retain information provided to them. Fatigue in children can also create mood instabilities or enhance the symptoms of an attention deficit disorder diagnosis. It is not unusual for students to already experience this issue after lunch, so extending the school day would make it difficult for children to mentally prepare themselves for additional learning.
3. Scores don’t rise with longer school days.
From data compiled in 2009 by the Seattle PI, students in the United States are already spending longer days in school compared to other nations. Compared to Singapore, US students are spending more than 200 additional hours in school each year. Even with these additional contact hours in place, student scores in the US have failed to rise to the levels seen in other nations.
4. It forces teachers to work longer hours too.
Teachers are already putting in a full day of work. Most teachers arrive an hour before school starts and leave 1-2 hours after school ends. Many teachers grade papers at home and perform other duties outside of the “normal” work day. Extending their contact time with students will extend their day and could make many of them be less effective at what they do.
5. More funding is required to make longer hours happen.
More contact hours for teachers means a higher salary needs to be paid. Another solution would be to hire additional teachers, but that would mean an added labor cost as well. That means higher property taxes and levies. It means private schools would raise their tuition rates. Considering the additional time doesn’t seem to improve scores, a focus on quality would be a better solution – especially if the funding requirements are difficult to meet.
The pros and cons of a longer school day will always be a controversial debate. More contact time can mean greater learning opportunities, but it could also create discipline issues for tired children without seeing any gains in scores. By focusing on quality first, then quantity, US children may have a better chance to reach their benchmarks and strive for future success.