Five states announced on Monday that they will add at least 300 hours of learning time to the calendar in some schools starting in 2013. In total, education officials expect to provide nearly 6 million more student learning hours next year. Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee will take part in the initiative, which is intended to boost student achievement and make U.S. schools more competitive on a global level.
"I'm convinced the kind of results we'll see over the next couple of years I think will compel the country to act in a very different way," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
The three-year pilot program will affect almost 20,000 students in 40 schools, with long-term hopes of expanding the program to include additional schools — especially those that serve low-income communities. Schools, working in concert with districts, parents and teachers, will decide whether to make the school day longer, add more days to the school year or both.
Spending more time in the classroom, education officials said, will give students access to a more well-rounded curriculum that includes arts and music, individualized help for students who fall behind and opportunities to reinforce critical math and science skills.
The National Center on Time and Learning has supported more school hours, as well as Duncan who once suggested schools should be open six or seven days a week and run 11 months a year, according to CBS station WCBS in New York.
More classroom time has long been a priority for Duncan, who warned a congressional committee in May 2009 — just months after becoming education secretary — that American students were at a disadvantage compared to their peers in India and China.
But not everyone agrees that shorter school days are to blame. A report last year from the National School Boards Association's Center for Public Education disputed the notion that American schools have fallen behind in classroom time, pointing out that students in high-performing countries like South Korea, Finland and Japan actually spend less time in school than most U.S. students.
The broader push to extend classroom time could also run up against concerns from teachers unions.