NEWS

Editorial: More time in school, better scores

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

It should be obvious that the more time you invest in an activity, the better you get at it, but the opponents of lengthening the school day have been ignoring the obvious for a long time. That will be harder now that schools are schools are experimenting with a longer day -- and showing impressive results.

Ten Massachusetts schools are now in their second year since lengthening their school day by at least 25 percent, and the initial reviews have been mostly positive. Teachers welcome more time for hands-on learning and individual attention for students who need it. There's also time for arts, music, physical education, recess, field trips and extracurricular activities -- all areas squeezed in the last decade in order to concentrate on academics.

Parents like the longer day because their children don't come home to an empty house every afternoon. Kids like it too, in part because those empty afternoons can get pretty boring and school can be more fun when teachers don't have to rush from one lesson to another. Both students and parents warm to the idea when they hear the trade-off some schools have embraced: More time in school, but no more homework at night.

Now there's evidence the extra time pays off in higher test scores. An analysis of the 10 schools by Massachusetts 2020, a leading advocate for extended learning, found improved scores at all grade levels on standardized MCAS tests on math, English and science. The number of students scoring in the advanced and proficient categories grew by 10.8 percentage points for English and 7.8 percentage points for math.

This year, the number of schools participating in the state's extended day program grew to 18, and another 33 schools in 16 districts -- including two schools in Framingham -- have applied to move to a longer day next year.

The state provides an extra $1,300 per year in local aid for every student in the Extended Learning Time program, and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., hopes to get additional federal aid to support the effort.

Making it work takes planning as well as money. But what is most important to reinventing the school day is a willingness to break from the status quo. The six-hour school day is a familiar habit for educators and parents, but there's nothing magic about it. We shouldn't be surprised to find that a longer -- and better -- school day creates better-educated students.