Middle school students in the 123,000-student Prince George's County school district in the greater Washington area will get around 40 minutes extra of class time next school year, according to the Washington Post.
For those students slipping behind, the 40 minutes will be used for extra academic help; for those who aren't, they'll have more time for enrichment like music and art. Teachers will not be tacking time on to their workday, however. The time is coming from what had traditionally been teacher-planning time.
Why just middle schoolers? The plan is not just part of efforts to improve academic performance, but also to cut transportation costs by $5 million per year. Middle school students next year will be riding the bus with high school students as the district reduces bus routes from 2,135 to 1,710. Students will either start the day earlier or end it later, depending on the school they attend.
Still, the district superintendent says the plan to keep middle schoolers in school for as long as seven hours and 20 minutes is focused on improving student outcomes, not just a means to save money. To do that, though, the district hopes to use time more effectively rather than by providing more "drill and kill."
"If you extend the time to do what you already do, you are not going to be productive," Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. is quoted as saying in the Post. "But if you extend it and engage students, offer problem-solving opportunities, reasoning, and critical thinking, that produces student outcomes."
The superintendent also said that the district would extend the day for high school and elementary students if it has the financial resources to do so.
Also in longer-school-day news, NPR has a feature on the ongoing debate in Chicago to lengthen the school day, which I've blogged about here and here. According to the story, increasing numbers of parents have created grassroots organizations that while supportive of longer days, are debating how time should be used best. The debate over how to use added time well does not end in Chicago.