Editorial: More school time a worthy experiment

An empty classroom at William Floyd High School

An empty classroom at William Floyd High School in Mastic Beach in 2011. (Credit: Daniel Brennan)

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Would a longer school day, or longer school year, create better education outcomes? Our gut instinct is yes, but gut instinct isn't a great way to make decisions that will affect millions of lives and cost billions of dollars.

We must have facts, both to make the right decision and, if expanding school is the right decision, to defuse arguments against doing it. So it's important news that 40 schools in five states, including New York, will add 300 instructional hours per year in a study to design more effective schools.

The program, a collaboration between the Ford Foundation, the federal government and the states and districts involved, was designed by the National Center on Time & Learning, a nonprofit that seeks to expand learning time. The schools involved face high poverty, the area in which education is most clearly failing. In New York, the eight participating schools are in Rochester, a community that desperately needs to improve school performance.

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The United States has been slipping in education for years, with that drop-off most evident among poor children. If the trend isn't reversed, the nation could see a generation of underprivileged kids growing up unable to make their way into a technological workforce. And even in schools not challenged by poverty and not failing, knowing the effect of increased instruction is valuable. All schools, no matter how successful, could use improvement.

This is a small program. For it to have broader application, what does and does not work needs to be defined. Some charter schools have had great success with added instructional time. But several nations whose education systems outperform ours send their kids to school less than we do.

We need to know more.

In the end, the conclusions can help far more than just these 40 schools, or even just high-poverty schools. It seems likely that expanding instructional time will help. If we can prove it, and prove how best to implement it, we will have made progress on our nation's most important problem.

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