There is a direct correlation between increased instructional time and student achievement, yet most American schools maintain the traditional school calendar
There is a direct correlation between increased instructional time and student achievement, yet most American schools maintain the traditional school calendar

The role of instructional time is essential to student achievement, but more time and better time are two different things. The role of time on student achievement and test gains has been studied in school districts nationwide, yielding interesting facts about the correlation between increased instructional time and student achievement.

The Link Between Increased Instructional Time and Student Achievement

Proponents of increased hours in the school day argue that additional time is needed to promote achievement and learning via increased on-task time, deeper and broader coverage of the curriculum, and more extended learning opportunities (see reference 3). When it comes to “time” there are a few classifications: allocated school time, instructional time, non-instructional time, engaged time, and academic learning time. The allocated school time, or number of hours students are in school, is believed to have the most impact on student achievement because increased hours in the school day mean more opportunities for increased engaged and academic learning time (see reference 3).

International Standings

U.S. students score lower on math and science tests than other countries, and U.S. schools also require fewer instructional hours (see reference 3). In the 1983 “Nation at Risk” address on education, the report stated while American students attend an average of 180 days, European students attend from 190 to 210 days, and Japanese students attend 240 days (see reference 3). The result is our national norm affects how well-prepared our students are in the global marketplace. But, some progress is being made in the U.S. Over 300 initiatives to extend school learning times were launched between 1991 and 2007 in 30 different states, and more than 50 extended day efforts were launched from 2000 to 2008 (see reference 3).

Expanded Learning Time Initiative

The Massachusetts 2020 program launched an Expanding Learning Time Initiative with the goal of closing the achievement gap by expanding educational opportunities for children. The ELT Initiative seeks to reshape the American school calendar to provide a well-rounded education to students in order to prepare them for our global society (see reference 4). The initiative redesigns and expands school schedules by 300 hours per year in hopes of improving student achievement in core subjects, as well as instructional time by allowing for more planning and professional development for teachers. The initiative was piloted by 10 schools in 5 districts. In the fall of 2006, one of those schools, Clarence Edwards Middle School in Boston, was on the verge of shutdown, Edwards became one of the highest performing middle schools in Boston by 2009 (see reference 5). School time was restructured to include 300 additional hours of learning and personalized instruction per year, per the ELT Initiative plan. Since 2006-2007, Edwards has essentially reduced the achievement gap with the state by 66 percent in science, 80 percent in ELA, and 8th graders exceeding state proficiency rates by 8 points in math.

Future of the American School Calendar

Extended school years or extended days come with their own range of concerns that include cost, burnout, and fewer opportunities for extracurricular activities or work opportunities for students. The ELT Initiative, for example, increased school time by 30 percent in the first year but required an additional 20 percent in base funding (see reference 4). Many educational experts believe that expanding learning time should be a part of improving American public education, and hope may be on the horizon. Under the guidelines of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, federal funds are slated to be channeled to incentivize longer school days as a way to improve schools (see reference 5).