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School Daze: Getting students to spend more time in class might not be as easy as it sounds

"Maximizing the instructional time a teacher spends with students during the day should be looked at first before you look at the length of the day or the length of the year," said the president of the union, which counts 575,000 members, the state's largest.

"Teachers are trained professionals whose role in the classroom is to teach, and too much time is spent on paperwork and supervising students in non-instructional roles," said Iannuzzi.

Iannuzzi also cited the additional money it would cost to extend school time on top of teachers' salaries. For example, if the school year extends into the summer, the cost of air conditioning should be factored in. Other variables to be considered include the impact it would have on parents and a student's extracurricular activities such as athletics.

"We are absolutely open to discussing these issues but it is not as simple as adding 45 minutes to a school day or five or 10 days to a school year," he said. "How you add time, what you do with the time and what the purpose of adding the time is has to be examined before we say it is a good idea or a bad idea."

Ernst said other cultural factors come into play if a district modifies the school day or year, including the time-honored tradition of local businesses hiring high schoolers as cheap summer help.

"Society as a whole has some interest and wants and should have an input, not just the educators or the policy makers," he said.

It is no secret some districts produce better students than others, and not all districts need to lengthen the school day or year to better student achievement. The districts that do, however, are typically most hard-pressed to afford it. One possibility, Ernst has suggested, is to offer a pot of state aid to those districts that do opt for longer days and/or a longer year to help offset the burden of local taxpayers.

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