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Longer School Day = More Learning? Not Necessarily

Researchers say teachers must be trained to use added time in the classroom effectively. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Recently we talked about how some American schools have made changes in the traditional school year. Their goal is to improve student learning.

Some have extended the school year, or reorganized it to avoid a long summer break. Another choice is to extend the school day. A new report from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University examines research into how effective this is.

The traditional school day has not changed much in more than a century. Activities or special programs might mean a longer day. But younger children usually go to school from about nine o'clock in the morning until about three in the afternoon. Older ones are traditionally in school from about seven a.m. until around two p.m.

Some high schools have changed to later start times because of findings that teenagers learn better that way. But the new report says results have been mixed. Teachers say students are more awake. But students say the changes interfere with after-school activities or jobs.

By two thousand one, almost one-third of all secondary schools had some form of block scheduling. The idea is to provide longer periods in the school day to teach basic subjects.

More class time should mean better results. This is the thinking, at least. Yet a two thousand one study found that secondary schools with traditional schedules had higher test scores by comparison. Schools with block scheduling did have higher scores in science, though.

In any case, the study agreed with earlier findings that students feel better about their schools in systems with nontraditional scheduling.

So how useful is a longer school day? Not surprisingly, the policy experts at Indiana say it is what educators do with the extra time that has the largest effect on student learning. They note a criticism that education leaders often make scheduling changes without changing the learning environment of a school.

The experts say teachers must be trained to use the added time effectively. Professional development is needed. The report notes that simply adding time to a program that is not very good or very interesting will not increase student learning.

Community support is also valuable for any changes. And there is another consideration. Schools may need a lot of extra money to pay for an extended day.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Bob Doughty.