In Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, Chester Finn makes “The Case for Saturday School.”
He notes that in the face of budget shortfalls, many school districts are moving toward four-day weeks, despite evidence that longer school weeks and years can improve academic performance. Additional time spent learning is one reason that students from other countries outperform American kids on international tests.
Some U.S. schools have figured this out, Finn writes—schools like KIPP that offer their students 8-10 hour school days, Saturday morning classes, and short summer breaks.
A fascinating new study by University of Maryland analyst Dave Marcotte shows that even the loss of a few instructional days can erode academic performance. Examining the days forfeited to snow and other ‘unscheduled closings’ in Maryland in 2002-2003, he concluded that two-thirds of the elementary schools that failed to make ‘adequate yearly progress’ (the federal benchmark under “No Child Left Behind”) in math that year would have done so ‘if they had been open during all scheduled school days.’
Finn writes that technology holds much potential to boost student learning time in flexible ways and at modest cost:
With continuing advances in hardware and software, the boundaries among ‘learning in school,’ learning in other settings,’ and ‘learning on your own’ will gradually disappear, with potent implications for time spent learning, which need no longer be confined to the classroom hours stipulated in the teachers’ union (or custodians’ union) contract or the 180-day year prescribed in state law (and, in some jurisdictions, not allowed to start before Labor Day).