To my mind, there were three striking things about the recent announcement that middle school students in Prince George’s County, Maryland—a large school district in suburban Washington, DC—will be going to school for an additional 40 minutes per day starting next school year. The first is the financial aspect of the district’s decision. According to the news report, the expansion of the school day comes about as the district has sought to re-configure its transportation routes to save money. The result of the new schedule for middle schoolers—a day that will be about seven hours 20 minutes long—is that the district will save $5 million annually in busing costs. Additionally, the district claims that the expanded day itself will not cost additional money because teacher time will be shifted from planning time to instructional time. And believe me, I recognize that there are downsides to this shifting of teachers’ schedules, but I also know it’s a balance and I’m happy to see that the district is thinking creatively about how to expand instructional time for kids.
The second notable feature of the decision is that the time will be added for all students, not just those who are struggling academically. Given that the reason for the time change was initially about busing, I suppose this isn’t surprising. You can’t very well have two bus runs—one for proficient students, one for non-proficient students—and hope to save money, of course. But, beyond the fiscal considerations, having a school day that is longer for all students has enormous educational implications for the entire student body. What expanding learning time for all students allows schools to do is to think differently about how the whole school day is used, not just the “extra” time. One of the principals, for example, explained that his school might add time to each class or simply add one more period. Either way, the very fact that the principal is considering options indicates that he is thinking about what would be best for the learning needs of all his students. The longer day opens up possibilities that he did not have this year.
Which leads to the third part. Though the press report does not say so explicitly, having one principal’s testimony that his school is still deciding how to integrate the additional 40 minutes suggests that the district is giving schools the flexibility, and the autonomy, to determine what is best for that school. Empowering schools to spend time in ways that they deem best often means that teachers (and students, for that matter) will take the challenge of spending time effectively more seriously. As the article makes clear, many students reacted to the news with the more typical resentment. Yet, there is also testimony from students and teachers that suggest a more reasoned, even hopeful feeling about having more time. We’ll continue to keep our eye on what happens in PG County, but, if middle schools are serious about seizing this opportunity to improve education, don’t be surprised if you hear of the positive consequences of having more time.