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Extending School Day for Reading: Good for Students or Recipe for Burnout?

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By guest blogger Madeline Will

Lengthening the school day to spend more time on reading instruction might boost test scores, but will students be left over-worked, burned out, and unable to enjoy after-school activities?

Two years ago, Florida took an unprecedented step when it approved a policy that required its 100 lowest-performing elementary schools to add an extra hour specifically for reading instruction to their school day. After just one year, 70 of the schools made enough progress on test scores to get off the lowest-performing list, and 30 of them opted to continue the program, as Education Week reporter Catherine Gewertz reported in a January story.

The program has since been expanded to reach the 300 lowest-performing schools, starting this fall. We've reported before on some of the lessons educators have learned from the initiative—some found that it has increased confidence and reduced discipline problems.

But some parents of students interviewed in a Orlando Sentinel story expressed concerns about the extra hour, saying it could leave students burned out. One parent worried that the longer day would tire her child out before after-school activities and limit teachers' ability to offer enrichment programs for students outside of class time. A teacher said she noticed an increase in tardy students since the extra hour in her school was tacked on in the morning.

One parent, Summer Young, told the Sentinel that the extra hour coming to her child's elementary school in the fall persuaded her to homeschool her daughter, who is in 1st grade. She disagrees with the extra time, saying that it is another example of focusing too much on standardized tests.

"I do not believe this will help the children in the long run, only make it more likely that they will dislike school," she told the newspaper.

Some national experts argue that ensuring buy-in from parents and educators is a key ingredient when launching an extend learning approach. It may not persuade everyone, but better understanding is sure to help allay concerns, and might even lead to adjustments to promote greater support. Earlier this month, in fact, we reported on this blog about opposition to an extended-day initiative from the local teachers' union in the District of Columbia. That opposition is severely constraining the participation of schools in the district program.

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