U.S. Schools Weigh Extending Hours, Year

The Associated Press
Sunday, February 25, 2007; 1:20 AM

BOSTON -- School principal Robin Harris used to see the clock on her office wall as the enemy, its steady ticking a reminder that time was not on her side.

But these days Harris smiles when the clock hits 1:55 p.m. There are still two more hours in the school day _ two more hours to teach math and reading, art and drama.

Harris runs Fletcher-Maynard Academy, a combined public elementary and middle school in Cambridge, Mass., that is experimenting with an extended, eight-hour school day.

"It has sort of loosened up the pace," Harris said. "It's not as rushed and frenzied."

The school, which serves mostly poor, minority students, is one of 10 in the state experimenting with a longer day as part of a $6.5 million program.

While Massachusetts is leading in putting in place the longer-day model, lawmakers in Minnesota, New Mexico, New York and Washington, D.C., also have debated whether to lengthen the school day or year.

In addition, individual districts such as Miami-Dade in Florida are experimenting with added hours in some schools.

On average, U.S. students go to school 6.5 hours a day, 180 days a year, fewer than in many other industrialized countries, according to a report by the Education Sector, a Washington-based think tank.

One model that traditional public schools are looking to is the Knowledge is Power Program, which oversees public charter schools nationwide.

Those schools typically serve low-income middle-school students, and their test scores show success. Students generally go from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week and for a few hours every other Saturday. They also go to school for several weeks in the summer.

That amounts to at least 50 percent more instructional time for students in such programs than in traditional public schools, according to the report.

The extended-day schedule costs on average about $1,200 extra per student, program spokesman Stephen Mancini said.

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