Longer school days could produce academic progress

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by Regina Mobley, 13News

WVEC.com

Posted on November 5, 2012 at 7:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 7 at 8:03 PM

NORFOLK-- The numbers cast a cloud of embarrassment across Hampton Roads -- a quarter of south Hampton Roads schools failed to reach reading, math and graduation targets established by the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act, according to a recent State Board of Education report. 

Across the state, only 34 of 132 school divisions met targets for achievement and the nation's teenagers have fallen far behind their peers in other countries. Comparing teens in 34 countries, Americans rank 17th in science and 25th in math.

Virginia law requires each school day have 5.5 hours of instruction time and the school year must be at least 180 days long.

Just this fall, Chicago Public Schools extended the academic day by two hours and so far the reviews are favorable.

In San Diego, a four-hour extended day option was added a few years ago for urban schools.

Little in the United States resembles the amount of time children spend in school in South Korea. The official high school day ends around 5:00 p.m., but academies can last to 10:00 p.m. and beyond.

Some academics, parents, and students call the Korea model excessive. Others wonder whether the concept is right - that students could benefit from a longer school day.

Dr. Samuel T. King, the new superintendent of Norfolk Public Schools, believes many students could benefit from an adjustment to the school schedule.

"We are not going to back away from saying a child might require additional time, and if we can't give it to them during the regular school day, [school officials] will review case loads to determine does that mean early morning tutorials for example or after school opportunities..[or] Saturday opportunities," says King.

King says there are two major obstacles for any district considering an extended school day - the near impossibility of getting 100 percent involvement from children in academic need and finding money to cover the additional expenses associated with more time in class.

No funding models have been established, but one member of the Virginia General Assembly who has hands on the state's purse strings says Virginia can afford to pay for longer school days. State Senator Kenneth Alexander (D-5th District) calls funding for an extended school day a "no brainer."

"If you look at the dollars we spend of juvenile justice and detention, for every dollar that we spend on longer school days, we save several dollars in payments to the Department of Juvenile Justice, detention, and social programs," he contends.

There is opposition from parents and educators who say the region's schools need to figure out a more efficient use of the existing school day.

"I don't know that children of any age could go to school for two hours longer every day. That's asking a lot of students to sit still, to be academically focused for that long," says Angela Goad, who has two children in Norfolk schools.

In Portsmouth, a city where just under 40% of schools fail to meet state goals, the chairman of the School Board says education leaders have not discussed a longer school day because of its cost.

James Bridgeford says he'd rather call for improvement in how those precious 5.5 hours of instruction are used each day.

 

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