When Nashville Classical kindergarteners are getting off of the bus, their peers across town have been home for hours. An eight-hour school day for kindergarten may sound excessive, but at this public charter school, that’s how long the school day needs to be.
“I think it’s important to think about all of the things you want to accomplish in a school day, and then make sure that you have the time to accomplish all of those things,” Charlie Friedman, Nashville Classical’s school director, says. “We didn’t start by saying we have to have an extended day, and we didn’t start by saying we have to end at 4:00 p.m.”
When Friedman built the schedule for his school, he knew he wanted to offer recess, physical education, three hours of literacy, hands-on science, and a foreign language every single day.
“Our students are learning Spanish while other kids in the community are walking home from school,” he says. “Once we had all of those things laid out, we built a day that was about an hour longer than the average school day.”
Extended school days, or extended learning time, have become ubiquitous among charter schools and lower-performing schools looking to improve academic achievement. The average school day in the United States varies from state to state, but most stays require approximately 180 days for the school year to be complete. Each state’s Department of Education determines its own minimum school day length and stipulations for fulfilling the 180 days. The way states add this time up can get complicated, but typically if schools or districts choose to add time to the legal minimum school day, the day would be considered extended. For most states, 180 days of school adds up to somewhere between approximately 900 and 1200 hours of instruction per year, which is actually relatively high on a global scale. Even Finland, whose test scores consistently top international rankings, doesn’t have compulsory schooling until age seven, and their school day is shorter than a typical American day.