Daniel H. Robinson, Professor, College of Education, University of Texas at Arlington

Upon becoming mayor of Philadelphia, Cherelle Parker announced that she will establish a working group on full-day and year-round schooling – an idea she had supported while campaigning. The group will develop a strategy to keep Philadelphia public schools open for longer hours during the week, from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., as well as over the summer, and to provide “meaningful, instructive out-of-school programming and job opportunities for students.”

Below, education expert Daniel H. Robinson answers five questions about year-round schooling in Philadelphia.

What do we know about the mayor’s plan?

Parker is proposing to keep Philadelphia public school buildings open longer hours and more days throughout the year. According to Superintendent Tony Watlington’s Accelerate Philly strategic plan, a year-round and extended-day school calendar will be piloted in up to 10 schools, with the goal of increasing student academic achievement. It does not state how many days or hours will be added to the 180 days Philadelphia currently requires.

This is different from what’s commonly known as year-round schooling, which doesn’t add extra school days but simply moves the existing days around so that there are multiple short breaks instead of a long summer break. For example, students might have 45 school days followed by 15 days of break, or 60 school days followed by 20 days of break.

The Philadelphia school district plan aligns with a recommendation made over 40 years ago, in 1983, in the Nation at Risk report commissioned by the Department of Education. The report suggested that the school year should be increased to 200 to 220 days.

How prevalent is year-round schooling?

The length of the school day and year varies around the world. Japan and Australia have school for almost the entire year, while the U.S. has school for only about nine months. In contrast, countries like Finland, Iceland and Ireland have shorter school days and years than the U.S. France has a longer school year but similar total hours per year as the U.S. French students get a two-hour lunch and do not attend school on Wednesdays.

In Philadelphia, some charter schools have added a summer extension program. But they still maintain traditional school hours during the school year.

Several states are participating in an initiative this year called the Time Collaborative. This three-year initiative involves 40 schools that will add 300 hours to their existing school calendar by having either longer days, longer school years or both.

Can the mayor legally do this?

The current minimum number of days that Pennsylvania schools are required to be open is 180 – similar to most other states. Districts can decide when they start and finish. The Philadelphia mayor can certainly extend the school day and the school hours since she appoints the school board members, who in turn control who is hired or fired as superintendent. And, most importantly, the new superintendent is supportive of the mayor’s plan.

A more important question is: Should the mayor do this?

Parker has said that she wants to catch kids up academically to grade level. Only about 15% of fourth graders in Philadelphia public schools score at or above the proficient level on standardized reading tests, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

But what are the additional costs? In addition to possible increased student and teacher fatigue and stress, the main cost is money. Keeping schools open and staffed longer requires more dollars.

Despite the hope that longer school days or years will lead to gains in student achievement, there’s little evidence that they will.

If Philly does in fact adopt a longer school day or year, even with just 10 schools on a voluntary basis, it could prove difficult to evaluate the effects.

Foremost among these challenges is selection bias. Schools that have support to opt in are likely different from schools that do not.

A better evaluation plan would be to first solicit applications for the pilot program from the more than 200 Philadelphia schools. Then, from those schools who volunteer to participate, randomly choose 10 for the pilot and then, at the end of the school year, measure the outcomes and compare them to the schools that weren’t chosen.

What are the potential gains?

The Accelerate Philly plan cites a 2023 study, which suggests that “summer and after-school programming can be effective in accelerating learning.”

Adding additional hours for before-school and after-school enrichment, and for more days during the school year, supports parents by providing free and convenient child care. It makes it easier for them to drop off and pick up kids on their way to and from work.

It also provides kids a safe and supportive environment for more hours. Keeping kids at school longer during the day and for more days during the year can lower juvenile crime. More time in school can mean less time on the streets.

There is still no decision on whether student participation will be mandatory. If it is not, some kids who might benefit may not get their parents’ consent to go to school earlier, stay longer and go for more days over the summer.

What hurdles might year-round schooling face in Philly?

Funding will be a big hurdle. Keeping school buildings open longer requires more energy. Many Philly public schools do not have adequate air conditioning to be open throughout the hot summer months.

More importantly, this plan requires more personnel – particularly teachers who can stay more hours. A January 2024 report from Penn State University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy Analysis found that Philadelphia teachers are leaving the profession at “relatively high attrition rates” – considerably higher than the rest of Pennsylvania. More Philadelphia teachers are quitting or retiring than those who are being newly trained, according to the report.

It is not clear yet how the teachers union would react to year-round schooling throughout the district or how all the additional hours and programming would fit into the annual operating budget.