Expanding Learning Time In High Schools

Liam Julian

Hilary Pennington
Center for American Progress
October 2006

Students in China spend nearly 30 percent more time in school than their American peers. That's a bit shocking. But so, too, is the finding that, twenty-three years after A Nation at Risk, "the only recommendation that has not been implemented in any systematic way is the proposal for increasing learning time by extending the school day and/or year." This report examines high schools that require an extended learning day (rather than offer it as a voluntary elective), evaluates the success of these schools, and analyzes how such reforms could be accomplished on a larger scale. While more time in class is no "silver bullet" for raising student achievement, the author correctly notes, successful extended learning schools have some things in common. They supplement the added hours with a culture focused on preparation for life after high school, place high expectations upon their students, and offer a solid core curriculum. For example, University Park Campus School (UPCS) in Worcester, Massachusetts, a 7th-12th grade public high school recognized as one of the nation's best, requires all entering seventh graders to attend a month-long academy that force feeds them the institution's culture of academic achievement. Budget issues in Worcester forced the school to cut back its extended learning periods, so UPCS now uses extended learning at critical points--when students enter seventh grade, and when they're nearing graduation in eleventh and twelfth--instead of throughout a student's stay. The older students often spend their extended hours in internships or structured independent study. Nearly all the school's students--the majority of them low-income, minority, and immigrants--pass the state MCAS test on the first try, and all graduates have attended college. That type of success doesn't come about just from longer school days. It's the overwhelming achievement culture, of which extended learning may be a part, that breeds the success. Extra time can be wasted, too. The report profiles other successful schools, and how they're using extended learning to boost student achievement. Find it here.

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