Is a longer school day and school year a ticket to higher achievement? Recent reports on 26 schools throughout Massachusetts and 39 schools in Miami-Dade (Fla.) County Public Schools provide widely different answers.
The School Improvement Zone, an experimental initiative in M-DCPS, was a three-year, $100 million project designed to boost achievement in the district’s lowest-performing schools. It was the centerpiece of former superintendent Rudy Crew’s agenda for the district and was named a Top 50 Innovative Program by the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2008.
Little to No Effect
The district’s final report on the program, however, found that the district has very little to show for its investment. Released in late spring, the report compared the 39 schools in the School Improvement Zone to another group of 39 schools within the district that have similar demographics. On the exams that comprise the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, students in the control group scored higher than those in the School Improvement Zone in math, science and reading. School Improvement Zone students outperformed their peers only on the writing exam, but even then the difference was small.
The report characterizes the extension of the school day and year as in fact problematic. Students and teachers alike reported exhaustion from the extra hour per day, and many students stopped attending school altogether once summer vacation began at the district’s other schools. In addition, principals and teachers reported that “proficient students felt stigmatized by the mandatory additional time, which was viewed as a punishment rather than an enhancement.”
Different State, Different Story
A report by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, and Massachusetts 2020 was more positive. In Listening to Experts: What Massachusetts Teachers Are Saying about Time and Learning and the Expanded Learning Time Initiative, state teachers identified time as the most important factor in teaching. Fifty percent of teachers whose schools are part of the Expanded Learning Time Initiative, a statewide effort to expand school time by at least 300 hours per year, report that they have adequate time to cover the curriculum, versus 34 percent of the teachers whose schools are not part of the ELT.
Despite the additional workload, teachers in the 26 ELT schools were more likely to affirm the statement “If I could start over again, I would still become a teacher” than their non-ELT peers (88 percent versus 80 percent), and 56 percent of ELT teachers answered yes to “Do your students take their schoolwork seriously?” while only 42 percent of the non-ELT teachers did so.