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Will a longer school day help close the achievement gap?

A longer school day can help improve student test scores, closing the achievement gap. But critics question the cost of those additional hours.

Students leave the Alain Locke Charter Academy in Chicago after their nine-hour day.

Stephen J. Carrera/Special to The christian Science Monitor

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Going to school from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. may sound like a student's nightmare, but Sydney Shaw, a seventh-grader at the Alain Locke Charter Academy on Chicago's West Side, has come to like it – as well as the extra 20 or so days that she's in class a year.

"I'm sure every kid at this school says bad things about the schedule sometimes," says Sydney, who was at school on Columbus Day, when most Chicago schools had a holiday. "But deep down, we all know it's for our benefit."

Finding ways to give kids more classroom time, through longer hours, a longer school year, or both, is getting more attention. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan support a lengthier timetable. Many education reformers agree that more time at school is a key step.

Charter schools like Alain Locke and KIPP schools (a network of some 80 schools that are often lauded for their success with at-risk students) have made big gains in closing gaps in student achievement, partly through expanded schedules. Other schools have been making strides, too – notably in Massachusetts and in the New Orleans system.

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