The Education Sector, a nonprofit thinktank, just released the findings of their current study regarding the impact of schools extending their school days to increase student performance.
Their results: "Extending the school day and offering 'more of the same' doesn't work." This stands in stark contrast to the strong endorsement of the Department of Education to make the school day longer for students.
There is no disagreement that we need to extend the number of days students spend learning. The top performing education systems around the world and the number of days they spend in school are: Japan (243 days), West Germany (236-240 days), South Korea (220 days) and Israel (216 days). Most schools in the U.S. are at 180 days. This indicates a clear correlation between the amount of instructional time for students and their increased academic performance.
The U.S. has a problem with public perception of our education system. Dr. Harold Stephenson, professor at University of Michigan, conducted a study several years ago on opinions of our education system. He found that 91 percent of American mothers studied thought our schools were doing an excellent or good job educating our students. When mothers in Japan and China were asked the same question about their countries the responses were 42 percent and 39 percent. This illustrates the challenge for our education system. American society does believe we need to implement change in our education system, but does not wholeheartedly believe that we are in or approaching a crisis situation in keeping our education system competitive with others throughout the world. New reforms struggle without "true" community passion and support for change.
The landmark 1988 report on the state of U.S. education, "A Nation at Risk," recommended our K-12 schools move to a seven-hour school day, expanding to 200 to 220 days a year of instruction. These reforms have not happened. American students still enjoy the longest summer vacation in the western world.
How we extend the school day is being debated. Successful strategies can be found in the area of structured after-school and summer programs. Groups such as The After School Corporation of New York, Citizen Schools of Boston and the Providence After School of Rhode Island provide educational programming that allows students to learn in ways different from the traditional classroom. Most of these experiences are centered around project-based learning. Students spend their time "doing" and applying what they have learned to benefit others.
Tom Horn, principal at Al Kennedy Alternative School in Cottage Grove, Ore., has created five cohorts of projects. They center on agriculture, energy, forestry, architecture and water. Projects must have an impact on the community and be visible in the surrounding neighborhoods, building pride in each student and the community. The project involved five teachers and 60 community volunteers.
"Flipped classrooms" also extend the school day by using the younger generations attraction to new technologies. Unique online lessons using smart phones, iPads, and computers engage students after school hours. Visits to the Forsyth County Schools in Georgia online learning management system begin rising after school and peak at 450,000 visits from 8 to 9 p.m.
Measurements benchmarking our education system against others around the world continue to illustrate that U.S. students are lagging behind their foreign counterparts. Extending learning time for our students is a necessity, but it must be done in an innovative and engaging way to put the U.S. education system back at the front of the pack.
Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.