Longer School Days

March 14, 1994

Teachers and parents who have vacation plans for the middle of June are probably jumping for joy over the Carroll County school board's decision to lengthen the school day rather than the school year to make up the 13 days lost to bad weather. By lengthening each of the school days between March 21 and May 19 by 50 minutes, Carroll's system will meet a state requirement that it provide 180 days of instruction. A longer school day also means that Carroll's academic year will end on June 17 -- as originally scheduled -- instead of June 27.

There certainly is nothing magical about 180 days of instruction, but the State Board of Education wisely has decided that this is a standard that will not be compromised. The board apparently will not give counties waivers for a shortened school year to compensate for the unusual number of days lost to inclement weather. To meet the standard, local school boards have little choice -- tack on days at the end of the calendar or make up the time by lengthening instructional hours.

We all know that sitting in a classroom doesn't always translate directly into learning. However, Carroll schools have lost nearly three weeks to weather this year. Significant chunks of study time must be made up. Whether it is more effective to have added school days or longer days is a judgment call. If classes were held into the last week of June, attendance probably would drop off precipitously. If children aren't in the classroom, they are not going to get any instructional benefits. By the same token, a longer school day may keep the bodies -- but not necessarily the minds -- in the classroom.

Stretching the school day will lead to some inconvenience. Parents who have organized their lives around the current daily school schedule will have to adjust. An earlier start for students means that some school buses will be on the road during the morning commuter rush hour. A late close may mean some buses will be dropping students off deep into the afternoon, just as the evening rush hour begins.

American students already attend school for fewer days and spend less time in the classroom each day than their European and Japanese counterparts. Adding an hour a day to Carroll students' schedules may be inconvenient but, in the end, educationally beneficial.

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