Pros and Cons of Longer School Days

student doing classwork at school

A lot is changing when it comes to school and this has showed us that schools can operate remotely if needed. While that option worked for some, it also showed us that the current education model has a lot of areas that could be updated or improved.

One idea is that the school day hours should match the workday for parents. Currently the school day is about six and a half hours and goes about 180 days a year. However, working parents often work eight or more hours a day for close to 260 days a year. A longer school day is one concept that helps to bring those facts into better alignment. Some schools have already implemented it in order to meet parents’ needs and to improve achievement. Other people believe that the longer school day is not effective and that schools should not be running as childcare centers.

Let's explore some of the pros and cons of longer school days to see if they might make sense in the new era of educational models. This will surely come from rethinking education during and after the time of COVID-19.

The Pros of a Longer School Day

Matches Parents Schedules

Currently, most K-12 schools dismiss their students in the mid-afternoon. This is often several hours before parents are finished working for the day. In order to ensure that their children are taken care of, many parents must find daycare options or enroll their kids in after-school programs. Still other parents are forced to work fewer hours because they cannot afford additional childcare. The scheduling problems and financial worries that come from a short school day could be remedied with an 8-hour school day during working hours.

Additional Instruction Time

One of the strongest positions for lengthening the school day is that it would give more time for instruction. Schools used to focus on basic academics like reading, writing and math. However, today we know that students need to be immersed in science, technology, math and engineering subjects. We also know that students need time to practice social and emotional skills as well as other non-academic skills like critical thinking and communication. These skills are highly sought after by employers. Therefore, adding instruction time during the day would allow students to be more prepared for college and careers.

More Time For The Arts

Additional arts and physical education classes could come with additional instruction time. Many of these subjects have been labeled as “extras” and are often the first to be cut when school budgets are in peril. However, most parents and teachers will tell you that arts education is important. With the lengthening of the school day, students may be able to take art, theater, music and physical education classes.

More Time For Play

In many schools, recess is being cut to a bare minimum. Even in the youngest grades where children learn both academics and social skills through play, recess time is diminishing. This is all in favor of additional academic learning time. As standardized testing and learning becomes more rigorous, teachers must cut down on the time that students spend playing.

However, most people agree that play is important for child development even for older children. Having free time during the school day allows the learning to develop and gives students a time to rest. With additional time in the school day, more time for play, recess and mindfulness this could be built into the daily schedule of students.

Prepares Students For The Future

Whether students go directly into a career after high school or go to college in order to prepare for a career, they will likely be expected to work eight hours a day on the job, if not more. Extending the school day helps students prepare for their expectations when they graduate and join the workforce. The current six-and-a-half-hour day was structured around students having to leave school and work on their families' farms and ranches at the end of the day. This calendar based on an agrarian lifestyle no longer make sense or prepares students for what they will need to know in the information age.

Cons of a Longer School Day

Does Not Ensure Higher Achievement

Some studies have been done that show that longer instruction time can improve achievement, but those results depend on things like classroom environment, quality of instruction, student prior knowledge and ability. This means that a longer day does not necessarily correlate with higher achievement. Without other factors in place, a longer school day is most likely not increasing student learning. In fact, countries that are regularly high achieving such as Finland, Singapore and China have not taken the longer day approach. Instead they maximize learning within the traditional schedule.

Lead to Higher Costs

In order to lengthen the school day, the school budget needs to be much higher. Teacher salaries would need to reflect the increase in time that it takes not only to deliver up to two hours extra of class work but also to plan and prepare for it. In addition, lights, air conditioning and heating units in school facilities will run for longer hours. There may be other places where schools could find efficiencies but simply making the school day a few hours longer would be costly.

Less Time For Other Activities

Students would be spending most of their waking hours at school if the school day was extended. They are already there for six and a half hours of their time. On top of that, they probably have around an hour or so of homework each night. Students who participate in extracurricular activities do so because they enrich their lives and build their talents. Lengthening the school day would mean that students need to forgo these extra activities in order to go to school and complete their homework.

It Is Not The Answer For Daycare Concerns

Besides higher achievement, the most impactful pro of the longer school day is that it matches parents’ working days. However, this argument treats school as if it is a daycare option as opposed to an educational opportunity for students. School is not meant to be a daycare, but is a place that students go to learn and prepare themselves for the future. Instead of lengthening the school day, communities should consider how to best support working parents so that the shorter school day is not a scheduling problem or a financial burden.

If you are interested in considering how a longer school day may positively or negatively impact your community, you may be interested in earning your higher-level education degree. Grand Canyon University offers doctoral degrees in education and master degrees that could put you in the position to become a decision maker in your local educational community.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.