Policy Documents

On the Clock: Rethinking the Way Schools Use Time

Elena Silva –
January 1, 2007

Time in school has been added and subtracted in many ways throughout our country’s history, although not always for obvious reasons. School schedules varied considerably by locality early in our country’s history with some schools open nearly year round and others open
only intermittently.

In large cities, long school calendars were not uncommon during the 19th century. In 1840, the school systems in Buffalo, Detroit, and Philadelphia were open between 251 and 260 days of the year. New York City schools were open nearly year round during that period, with only
a three-week break in August. This break was gradually extended, mostly as a result of an emerging elite class of families who sought to escape the oppressive summer heat of the city and who advocated that children needed to “rest their minds.” By 1889, many cities had moved
to observe the two-month summer holiday of July and August.