With details still lacking, it is unclear how Gov. Chris Christie’s State of the State call for lengthening the school day and year would affect the typical New Jersey student, who spends 7 hours and 6 minutes a day in school for 180 days.
There are currently 63 schools in the state in which students spend more time in the building – including classes, lunch and other non-instructional activities — than the typical adult’s full-time work day of eight hours, according to an analysis of the most recent School Performance Reports released by state education officials last spring.
Those reports, with information for the 2011-12 school year, show that students spend eight hours or more on instruction alone in five schools: the Dr. F. Napier Jr. School of Technology in Paterson; the Peoples Preparatory, TEAM Academy and Great Oaks charter schools, all in Newark; and Freedom Academy Charter School in Camden.
On the other hand, there are 26 schools, excluding preschools and shared-time vocational schools, reportedly in session for less than six hours, and 17 schools where students are getting five hours or less of instruction per day.
Christie on Tuesday called for lengthening the school day and year, saying the current school calendar is “antiquated.” But he still has provided no specifics about how he would do this or how much it would cost.
The genesis of the typical American school calendar dates back to the 1800s, when most children worked on family farms and the nation was largely agrarian.
Over the last half-century, school districts have tested or adopted “year-round” calendars as a way of dealing with overcrowded buildings or trying to reduce the amount of learning lost during the long summer break, but in most cases schools are not in session longer than 180 days. According to the National Center on Time and Learning’s database, about 488 schools across the country are open 181 days or longer with school days stretching more than seven hours.
New Jersey, like the majority of states, requires a 180-day school year. According to a 2011 review by the Education Commission of the States, students go to school for less than that in a dozen states, with Colorado’s 160 days being the shortest school year. Kansas has the longest – 186 days for students through grade 11 and 181 days for high school seniors. Hawaii is slated to increase its school year to 190 days by 2015. Some schools in five states – Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee — are involved in a three-year pilot project to extend their calendars by at least 300 hours.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan supports a longer school year as one way to help American students catch up with their peers in other countries. A 2011 analysis by the Center for Public Education, however, found that many U.S. students get about the same amount of instruction as students in such high-achieving countries as Korea, Finland and Japan, when comparing the actual amount of instructional time, rather than just time in school.