Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr recently made recommendations to change the bell times for all public school students in the county. He bases these recommendations on a study that provides convincing evidence for changes to high school and middle school times, but lacks any evidence for changes in elementary times.
These days we expect accountability and evidence-based decision-making from our leaders. This omission comes as a disappointment.
Starr recommends that the elementary school day be extended another 30 minutes — ending at 3:35 or 4 p.m., depending on which school your kids attend. As the lead statistician in a federal agency, I’ve seen a growing push across government to base decisions on evidence — not intuition, beliefs or anecdotes. That means: support things that work, don’t support things that don’t work, and if you don’t know if it works, test it.
There is no evidence that extending the school day for our youngest students impacts test scores, graduation rates, academic motivation or self-confidence. In fact, substantial research suggests the opposite.
Students in school longer have no better performance on average, and as they become more fatigued, their memory and concentration decrease. A longer day can lead to teacher burnout, which has proven negative effects on kids.
Combine tired kids with tired teachers and you can imagine the result.
Finally, playtime has therapeutic effects on kids, so less playtime can have negative effects on social and emotional health. Add to these effects the budgetary cost, which will be paid for by higher taxes or cutting needed programs.
Rather than cite evidence, Starr has based his recommendation on personal beliefs in a longer school day and false comparisons. Starr has pointed out that Montgomery County has the second shortest school day in Maryland. That’s another way of saying “everyone else is doing it, so why can’t we?”
If you were to point out that students in other counties are smarter (they aren’t), more engaged (they’re not), or more self-confident (we don’t know), and you were to show that this is because they are in school longer, I would not argue.
But the superintendent has done none of this. Rather than implement the change on 130 schools and thousands of kids, why not do a test study on a small number of schools that willfully participate? That would provide evidence that it works and the benefits outweigh the costs.
The good news is that Starr and the Board of Education have not yet made their decisions, and are working hard to listen to our concerns and ideas. Parents have recently received a survey from their school on the topic. Parents and community members can also voice their own opinions by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robin Ghertner, Wheaton