According to a new UCLA study released this week, California students in high-poverty schools lose two weeks of learning time – roughly 25 school days a year – compared to their affluent peers.
An analysis of the time lost during the year amounts to teacher absences, special days around unstructured learning around holidays/after exams, planned and unplanned disruptions, and testing days. These are all seemingly normal issues around school time, but the researchers found around 10 days difference between high-poverty schools compared to low-poverty schools. Not only do the distractions amount to more in high-poverty schools but lack of opportunities outside of school and in school (due to school funding) causes a bigger education equality problem and a need to bridge the opportunity gap that continuously grows. Due to less access to enriching activities, high-poverty students fall behind before they reach kindergarten and continue to fall behind compared to their affluent peers as they progress in school. (Learn more about the 6,000 hour learning gap). Compounding that problem, according to the study, high-poverty students then get less learning time in school where they have to do more in the time they are playing catch up and teachers have to teach to the needs of the whole child, which usually encompasses more than just academics. In the UCLA study, teachers at disadvantaged schools reported spending significantly more time on counseling, college and career advice, discussions about inequality and financial responsibility, access to healthcare and other issues not necessarily connected to academic subjects.
This new study is another example of why we need to push for high-quality education for ALL children. We strongly believe this inequitable use of time in high-poverty schools can be fixed with longer, thoughtful, school days or years. With more time, teachers have time to address the social and emotional needs of their students while also boosting their academic outcomes. For example the Balsz School District in Arizona was a struggling school where 90% of the students qualified for free and reduced lunch. In the four years since the Balsz Elementary School District #31 expanded the school schedule, students’ test scores have risen significantly -approximately 85 % of sixth graders meet or exceed state standards in reading, far exceeding performance in comparable districts.
If you want to learn more about the study in California, read the Hechinger Report article. Also, watch our comparison video that shows the impact of a longer school day on a high-poverty and affluent student.