The Rapidian

Expanding the School Day

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An extra hour each school day is helping San Juan Diego Academy students academically.
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Local experience supports national research

Common sense and years of research have indicated that more time in school leads to improved student performance.  Now there is practical evidence locally that there are benefits to an extended school day.  San Juan Diego Academy increased the school day by one hour this year and there is already a marked increase in student achievement.

Hands on activities are possible with the additional time available

Hands on activities are possible with the additional time available /R Heys

In the summer of 2011 San Juan Diego Academy decided to join a small group of schools nationwide that offer expanded learning time during the school year.  These schools are redesigning and expanding the time allotted for learning in an effort to improve student achievement and provide a well-rounded education.  With a few weeks in the current school year remaining, positive results are already being seen.

Seventh and eighth graders increased their reading levels by a year or more according to the MAPS tests they took in January.  Of the 15 students who took the test, 14 improved by at least a year and some as much as two years in reading.  Eighty-five percent improved six months or more in math.

Teachers have noted that the benefits achieved by students are different at various grade levels.  The challenges at the lower levels are greater because of the greater disparity in the maturity.  Even for those who are behind developmentally the extra time is beneficial in their language development.

It is for the students that are behind that teachers see the greatest value in the extra school time every day.  The benefit of being able to provide more time to students is the equivalent of individualized tutoring for those students.

For older children the added hour of school allows teachers to provide hands on time to reinforce book learning.   Percentages and proportions in a book seem daunting and irrelevant to twelve year old, but when students are given a tape measure and asked to compare the sizes of objects in the room, proportions seem natural and useful.  More time makes that experience possible.

Extra practice helps students learn more.  That should be counterintuitive.  After all, what athlete does not enhance their skills and become better without additional practice?  It is no different when it comes to learning.  More practice leads to increased proficiency.  Today, with the amount of knowledge necessary to succeed being so much greater than 100 years ago, the need to learn and understand complex ideas and practice is even greater.

For students from low income families the extra school time has a more dramatic effect.  Typically these students enter school less prepared than their more affluent peers.  It can also be attributed to the lack of time and money that economically disadvantaged families experience.  For those families, learning that is done at school likely would not happen otherwise.

There is a great deal of research available that points to higher achievement for students who attend extended learning time schools.

  • Roland G. Fryer, Jr., a Harvard economist, reported in 2011 that instructional time of at least 300 additional hours and high-dosage tutoring were two of the strongest factors of higher achievement.
  • A three year study of Illinois schools by Dennis Coates, professor of economics at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County Education confirmed that more time spent in reading and math classes led to higher scores in those subjects.
  • Observations in California classrooms found the differences in the amount of time students were involved in learning resulted in nine percentage point differences in student scores in elementary levels.  (See the full report by Charles Fisher and Daniel Berliner Teaching and Learning in Elementary School: A Summary of the Beginning Teacher Evaluation Study. (San Francisco, CA Far West Lab for Educational Research and Development, 1978).

The challenge for teachers, among other things, is in time management.  It is important for them to be cognizant of students’ ability to stay alert through a longer day.  This means scheduling recesses and lunch times according to the ebb and flow of the classes’ attention spans. 

Unfortunately, there are few schools that offer extended learning time.  Nationally only slightly more than 1000 schools are using this approach to learning.  That is only 20 per state on average.  Kent County is fortunate to have two such schools available.

There is a monetary cost to providing extended learning time.  That is one reason why it isn’t in widespread usage.  A big part of the additional costs come from teacher compensation.  That has not been an issue for San Juan Diego Academy. Its dedicated teachers have forgone additional compensation for the good of the students.

Closing the achievement gap for not only Latino children, but for children from low-income families as well is crucial to the success of our community.  Much is made of the low graduation rates in our local high schools.  Increasing high school graduation rates is not enough.  In today’s economy, our children need to aspire to having a college degree.  Expanded learning time schools are building a culture of high expectations.

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