Extended School Time Proposals And Charter Schools

Posted by on January 22, 2014

One of the (many) education reform proposals that has received national attention over the past few years is “extended learning time” – that is, expanding the day and/or year to give students more time in school.

Although how schools use the time they have with students, of course, is not necessarily more or less important than how much time they have with those students, the proposal to expand the school day/year may have merit, particularly for schools and districts serving larger proportions of students who need to catch up. I have noticed that one of the motivations for the extended time push is the (correct) observation that the charter school models that have proven effective (at least by the standard of test score gains) utilize extended time.

On the one hand, this is a good example of what many (including myself) have long advocated – that the handful of successful charter school models can potentially provide a great deal of guidance for all schools, regardless of their governance structure. On the other hand, it is also important to bear in mind that many of the high-profile charter chains that receive national attention don’t just expand their school years by a few days or even a few weeks, as has been proposed in several states. In many cases, they extend it by months.

Although KIPP is among the more extreme examples, many KIPP schools add 3-4 hours to the day and a few weeks to the year (e.g., via mandatory Saturdays and/or summer school). Although these comparisons vary by location, when you compare the total number of hours to that of schools in their host districts, KIPP schools offer between 40-55 percent more time. This is a rather striking discrepancy, which can represent the equivalent of 3-4 additional months of schooling using the typical 6-7 hour regular public school day (regular public schools couldn’t fit all that time into the calendar without lengthening their days). This may be one of the primary reasons why at least some KIPP schools spend more money than comparable schools in their areas.

And, again, it’s not just KIPP – the majority of high-profile operators use expansions — often large expansions — of the school day/year. Sometimes, this extended time is evident across charter sectors. In 2008, for instance, the New York City charter school sector as a whole offered an average of 30 percent more school time than the city’s regular public schools.

I have argued that these massive extensions of the school day and year may be one of the big concrete policy characteristics that explain the success of high-profile charter models. Although, to reiterate, time must be used wisely, it’s not hard to argue that adding the equivalent of 2-4 months to the school calendar might serve to boost student outcomes of various types. And the empirical evidence, though still thin, tends to support this viewpoint.

Therefore, regular public school districts certainly should consider expansion of the school day/year as a viable option to increase student performance. However, to whatever degree they are basing this on the results of the few high-flying charter school chains, they would well-advised to bear in mind the sheer scope of extension at these schools, and to adjust their expectations as to possible results accordingly.

- Matt Di Carlo


5 Comments posted so far

  • This is why the Indiana legislature made it illegal for teachers to collectively bargain hours they work.

    This way schools can extend their day without worrying about compensation.

    Comment by inteach
    January 22, 2014 at 10:35 AM
  • There are some obstacles to increasing the time students are in school. One is money. Time is usually equal to money. Unless you are going to not pay educators for the extra time then you need more funding for the extra time. This will be met with resistance in many states. Another obstacle is attendance. The very students who would benefit from more time are many times the ones who are chronically absent. They need to be there in the first place to get the time now and then the extra time.

    These are just a couple of the obstacles. I am not saying that we shouldn’t try to get more time but we need to be aware of some of the obstacles we would face in doing so.

    Comment by Jay Blain
    January 22, 2014 at 10:56 AM
  • Another issue is teacher supply, demand, and attrition. Turnover in charters is clearly greater and such charters rely on a limited supply of TFA_like teachers to fill positions. If all schools in a state expanded school time significantly, the policy may create a huge issue with greater teacher attrition and a withering supply of teachers willing to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, 45 weeks a year. Its pretty easy to do when you are single and 23 (been there, done that), but much harder when you are older and raising a family. thus, ultimately, policymakers would have to weigh the benefits of longer days/more days of schooling and potentially negative side effects of such policies. It is not entirely clear how this would play out unless states also hired more teachers, more aides, etc.

    Comment by Ed Fuller
    January 22, 2014 at 11:49 AM
  • Before we rush to extend the school day (which I actually don’t think is a bad idea IF it’s QUALITY extended time), let’s look at how we are using the time we already have. How much teaching and learning,”time on task” is going on? How much time is being squandered on test prep, test-taking, test make-ups, and other non-test related activities? Do the math; it’s pretty surprising.

    Comment by Rochelle Nichols-Solomon
    January 27, 2014 at 9:48 AM
  • Good blog.

    I mostly agree with Ed Fuller’s comment. That is a first, I think, in my life.

    Remember, there are 2 KIPP strategies happening in parallel. One is extended hours/days for students. The other is more teacher hours put into “planning.” I use that term loosely to include: lesson writing, grading, analyzing and reacting to data, and phone calls to parents.

    To best of my knowledge, nobody has compared the “low hours” KIPP and KIPP-like schools to the “high hours” versions. Do longer-hour KIPPs outperform lower-hour KIPPs? I’d bet: No. But I wouldn’t bet the house. It would be interesting to see the result.

    KIPP Massachusetts cut out its Saturday school entirely a few years ago. I think it was a 12% total reduction in annual hours of school. No effect on achievement. And to Fuller’s point above, the key driver was to work on teacher satisfaction.

    There are 4 ways to pursue extended time.

    1. Pay no additional cash, but recruit teachers willing to put in the time. That’s what most high-flying charters do currently.

    2. Pay modest additional cash by having some sort of lower-paid “Second Shift.” This idea is advanced by Eric Schwarz of Citizen Schools.

    There are some scale limitations to #1 and #2, although both continue to grow.

    3. Pay teachers a little extra, often a stipend. A number of districts are doing this.

    4. Pay teachers some version of their pro-rated salaries, or full freight, for all additional time. To my knowledge, no district does this at scale.

    *

    So we have 3 debates at the same time. One is “what is value of extended day for kids, under what conditions.” The second is “how much do we pay.” The third is “who do we pay” — teachers or non-teachers.

    Comment by Mike G
    February 4, 2014 at 9:20 AM

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