If you are a parent of a school-age student, then you have likely heard them complain about all of the time they have to spend in school. Like most parents, you probably brushed this off as nothing more than adolescent bellyaching. But guess what? They’re right.

In many places, the school day is too long. This mostly refers to schools with extended days. The school I currently work at releases at 4 pm. My first-year teaching students, I didn’t get out until 5 pm. Some nearby schools didn’t release some of their students until closer to 6 pm. All three of those release times are far too late for students and teachers alike.

Many people are going to dismiss these complaints because obviously, teachers and students want the school day to be shorter. However, this sentiment is not without a factual basis:

  1. Many studies have found that more hours spent in school doesn’t necessarily equate to better academic achievement.
  2. Students need more sleep than adults and the current length of some school days in conjunction with homework and extracurriculars limits their ability to get a good night’s sleep.
  3. Tons of countries have shorter school days than the United States, including countries with renowned and competitive educational systems such as Finland, Japan, and Korea.
  4. Research shows regardless of how much extra time students spend in school, the students are only going to operate at peak performance for a certain percentage of the day.

While the sources cited above can offer hard evidence for skeptics, teachers have ample anecdotal evidence to back it up. Any teacher that works at a school with an extended school day can tell you that at a certain point student seem to turn their brains off. Every teacher knows that the classes after lunch are the toughest.

While shortening the school day has been proposed and implemented in many places, other people have other ideas about how to shrink the stressors of school. Instead of shortening the school day they propose shortening the school week to four days. This would solve some of the problems of a long school day but not all of them, such as sleep during the week.

It’s important to make a distinction. There is a movement to increase the amount of time that students stay at school for the benefit of the families, in particular working mothers. As the school day doesn’t match up perfectly with the workday, many families have trouble getting their kids and maintaining their jobs. Most of these plans revolve around subsidized after school care and not actually increasing the number of instruction hours in class. So, it is possible to both shorten the school day and still provide meaningful enrichment for students until their parents get off work.

There is little chance that the ramblings of students and teachers move the needle on this argument. Most of the public already thinks students and teachers get too much time off as it is. However, next time you see those international test scores come out remember the US scored lower than countries that in some cases spend almost a third less time in school. It makes you question what are the actual levers of student achievement.


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