In limited circumstances, struggling schools try to escape that situation by lengthening the learning day. Such has been the case with Florida elementary schools. An analysis reveals reading improvements. Adam Tyner of the Fordham Institute writes:

A new study from Northwestern University’s David Figlio and his co-authors at the American Institutes for Research presents new evidence that increased instruction time improves reading skills. The study assesses the impacts of Florida’s “Extended School Day” (ESD) program, which requires (and funds) the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools to provide an additional hour of instruction each day.

This additional instruction is targeted at improving student literacy, and the program requires schools employ teachers rated as “effective,” teach phonics and reading comprehension, adapt instruction to student ability, and use texts from social studies, science, and math classes. The intervention is not cheap, running around $800 per student, and previous evaluations of the program’s implementation and impact have been mixed, calling into question whether the program is worth the cost.

Students in the schools that implemented the extended school day outperformed similar schools that didn’t by the equivalent of about one month of learning (0.05 standard deviations) on the end-of-year state literacy assessment. Although the schools in the study are overwhelmingly high-poverty, students from poorer families (as measured by free or reduced-price lunch eligibility) experienced double the growth (0.60 standard deviations) that the few students who didn’t qualify for free or reduced-price lunch experienced (0.30 standard deviations).

The study is not able to address the broader question of the efficacy of extending the school day for schools in general, since the methods they use yield clear effects only for schools near the reading performance cutoff, and these are only the most troubled schools. If students from high-poverty schools tend to have less educationally enriching experiences when they’re out of school than other students, extending the school day may help these students the most, although this study found some positive results for students who were from less impoverished families, as well. Overall, while it is impossible to say whether the extended school day is worth the cost without evaluating alternative policies as well, this study suggests that a longer school day can indeed lead to students learning more.

Tom Schuman is the senior vice president of communications & operations for the Indiana Chamber. He is also the editor of the Chamber’s award-winning BizVoice magazine and has been with the organization for 20 years.