The bird of time is on the wing in U.S. schools

By Susan Davis, Johns Hopkins University

 

Policymakers have noted that because U.S. schools are not in session as long as schools in other countries, and because the time U.S. students spend in school is not always used efficiently, American students are placed at a disadvantage compared to their peers worldwide. Compounded by the impact of the Covid-19 school closures, some districts have increased the school year by 4-5 weeks to compensate, while other districts who continue to experience staffing shortages and reduced budgets have had to adopt a 4-day school week in response.

In a comprehensive analysis, Matthew Kraft and Sarah Novicoff explored the obstacles to active learning time, reviewed evidence on how time impacts student achievement, and examined data from district, national, and international sources. Their findings highlighted a positive correlation between time spent in school and student achievement. Notably, international studies showed significant gains when school hours were substantially increased (e.g., by 3 hours), though even smaller increases (less than 90 minutes) led to modest improvements.

The study also found that four-day school weeks rarely enhanced academic outcomes, whereas later school start times often did. Obstacles to active learning included unexcused student absences, outside interruptions, and teacher absences. The authors examined one district as a case study and found that high school students there lost 25% of their instructional time due to these factors. An increase of 1.85 hours a day would be needed to make up for this loss.

Kraft and Novicoff also addressed equity and extended learning time, highlighting that while extended learning can benefit students who have access to it, caution is needed to ensure it does not constrain valuable experiences outside of school. Policy implications include the need for equitable access, balanced scheduling to accommodate diverse student needs, and ensuring quality instruction during extended hours.

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