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Is a longer school day better or worse?

The length of the school day is a hotly debated topic in education. Some argue that extending the school day with more instructional time will improve academic outcomes for students. Others counter that a longer day could lead to fatigue and burnout for both students and teachers. There are reasonable arguments on both sides of this issue, with potential benefits and drawbacks to consider. Evaluating the pros and cons can help determine if a longer school day would be better or worse overall.

What is the current length of the school day?

The length of the school day and school year varies significantly around the world. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average school day for American public school students in 2019 was 6.64 hours. This includes time spent on instruction, recess, lunch, and passing periods. The average length of the instructional school day was 5.50 hours.

The average number of days in the school year was 180, meaning the average American student received around 1,170 hours of instructional time per year. This length has held relatively steady over the past few decades, though some schools and districts have experimented with extending the school day and year.

Country Average Hours in School Day
United States 6.64
Australia 6
Japan 8
South Korea 9
Finland 5
France 6.5

Compared to other developed countries, the school day in the U.S. is shorter than some places like Japan and South Korea but longer than Finland. Calls to extend the American school day often argue that more hours would allow students to catch up with higher-performing peers abroad.

Average length of school day by state

There is also variation in the length of the school day between individual states in America. Based on NCES data from 2019, the state with the longest average school day was Louisiana at 7.1 hours. The shortest school days were in Colorado and Oregon, tied at 6.0 hours.

State Average Hours in School Day
Louisiana 7.1
South Carolina 6.8
New York 6.7
Texas 6.6
California 6.1
Oregon 6.0
Colorado 6.0

Some states and districts have taken steps to extend their instructional time. For example, the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) network of 200 public charter schools has notably longer days. Their typical school day runs from 7:30am to 5pm, adding nearly an extra two hours per day compared to average public schools.

What are the potential benefits of a longer school day?

Proponents argue there are several potential academic and non-academic benefits to extending the school day. Here are some of the most commonly cited:

More instructional time

Adding time to the school day inherently means more opportunity for instructional time and learning. With more minutes devoted to core subjects like math and reading, as well as enrichment areas like music and technology, students may be able to absorb more material and achieve at higher levels. This is a primary argument from longer school day advocates.

Improved academic outcomes

Relatedly, the hope is that more in-class time and learning opportunities will translate to improved academic outcomes. Some research has shown correlation between additional time and higher test scores, graduation rates, college attendance, and more. A 2015 study of charter schools in New York found students gained an additional month of learning in math for every 85 extra hours of math instruction.

More time for tutoring and interventions

The added time in an extended day provides more opportunity for individualized instruction, tutoring, and academic interventions for students who need extra support. This includes students with learning disabilities, those struggling in particular subjects, English language learners, and gifted students needing more enrichment.

Decreased behavioral issues

Some evidence suggests longer school days can lead to improvements in student behavior, attendance and attitudes. Researchers posit this may be because students have less idle time after school and are more engaged in learning rather than disciplinary matters.

Teacher collaboration

With a longer student day, teachers may have more flexibility for planning periods, collaboration with colleagues, teacher training, and professional development. This benefits instruction.

Reduced need for afterschool care

For some working families, a longer academic day lessens the need to arrange afterschool childcare. Parents may appreciate having their children supervised at school for more of the workday.

More time for extracurriculars

Longer school days provide more time for non-academic activities like sports, clubs, music, drama and other enrichment pursuits. Students can explore passions and build skills beyond the core curriculum.

What are the potential drawbacks of a longer school day?

Despite the hopeful vision of extended time improving outcomes, there are also potential downsides of a longer school day. Concerns include:

Student fatigue

Spending very long hours at school could lead to mental exhaustion, lack of focus, and physical fatigue for students. Younger students in particular may struggle with days beyond 8 hours. Performance and retention may drop later in an overly long day.

Teacher burnout

Similar to students, extremely long work days of 10+ hours could exhaust teachers, reduce morale, and contribute to burnout. Educators need sufficient planning time and can’t be “on” for students every moment of an endless day.

Over-crowded curriculum

Adding time doesn’t inherently improve learning – schools must also use the time wisely. Packed days with new material introduced indiscriminately can overwhelm students. Curriculum must be adjusted purposefully, not just expanded.

Less family time

Very long school days mean less afternoon and evening time at home for family meals, play, homework, hobbies and dialogue between parents and children. Some argue this family connection is essential for development.

Later bedtimes

When the school day ends later into the evening, this pushes back dinnertime, homework, and when students can get to bed. Later bedtimes could lead to poor sleep habits, tiredness, and struggles waking up early the next morning.

Higher costs

Operating schools for longer hours incurs greater costs for teacher and staff salaries, facility operation, transportation, and programs. Budget-strapped districts may balk at added expenses, while some taxpayers may oppose higher costs.

Childcare logistics

Although a longer academic day may reduce the need for afterschool care, families still require supervision in the early morning hours before an early school start time. This can complicate logistics for parents with long work commutes.

Less time for jobs/activities

Some students have afterschool jobs or responsibilities like caring for siblings that could conflict with a longer academic day. This schedule also leaves less time for extracurriculars outside of school.

Does the research support longer school days?

Given the complex trade-offs involved, research evidence is mixed on whether extending the school day delivers meaningful benefits overall:

Some studies show improvement

Certain analyses have found positive outcomes correlated to longer school days, especially in disadvantaged schools. A Massachusetts study showed schools adding 300 hours per year for all students saw test score gains. Research on charter schools with extended time like KIPP also demonstrates higher achievement.

Other studies show no change

A 2010 report on Chicago schools extending the day by 90 minutes found no significant impact on student performance in math or reading. Research in Miami-Dade schools found negligible academic gains from adding an hour to the day. Similarly, a study of Florida’s extended day initiative showed no effect on student learning growth.

Effects likely dependent on implementation

Research suggests effects rely heavily on how the extended time is utilized, not just the quantity of time. The demonstrated success of some charter schools with long days implies other schools can benefit from careful implementation. But just tacking on time haphazardly may yield little learning advantage.

Study Findings on Extended School Day
Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time Initiative Positive – Test scores rose in schools adding 300+ hours per year
Chicago Public Schools Pilot Program No improvement – Minimal impact from 90 additional minutes
Miami-Dade School District Study No improvement – No gains from extra hour each day
Florida State Extended School Day Policy No improvement – No impact on student achievement

Benefits may depend on student age

Younger students in elementary grades may stand to gain more from added time compared to high school students. Older teenagers were found less engaged in Chicago’s extended day pilot, while younger students made gains. This aligns with concerns about older students experiencing more fatigue in a longer day.

What are best practices for structuring an extended day?

Research and educator experience suggests some best practices to maximize benefits if a school does expand the academic day. Recommendations include:

Emphasize quality over quantity

Simply tacking on extra time is not effective. Schools should thoughtfully use added time for individual support, small group instruction, collaborative projects, and quality teacher planning.

Provide enrichment opportunities

In addition to core subjects, students can benefit from clubs, music/art, social-emotional development and physical activities in an extended day. This makes the time more engaging.

Train teachers and staff

Educators need professional development and support to adapt curriculum and instruction to an extended schedule. Their buy-in and enthusiasm is critical.

Gather community input

Parents, teachers and students should give input on schedules. Their perspectives on logistics like transportation, childcare, sleep needs and afterschool responsibilities should inform planning.

Consider part-time extensions

Rather than a blanket increase for all students everyday, schools might experiment with voluntary extended day programs a few days a week or targeted to certain groups needing more support.

Track data on outcomes

Schools must carefully monitor student achievement, attendance, behavior and other metrics and make adjustments. The extended day should deliver concrete benefits to justify the added cost and time.


Extending the school day is a complex issue with reasonable arguments on both sides. Potential academic and developmental benefits for students must be weighed against drawbacks like fatigue, overcrowded curriculum, and family time concerns. The research on outcomes is mixed, suggesting added time alone does not guarantee gains. However, thoughtfully implemented extended days, especially for disadvantaged students, show promise in some contexts. Schools considering a longer day should conduct needs assessments, gather stakeholder perspectives, budget thoroughly, and pilot models while tracking data. This allows maximizing benefits while minimizing potential pitfalls of a longer academic day. With smart planning and cultural adjustments, more in-class time could provide more opportunity for many students to learn and grow.