I found this article on school culture on A Passion for Teaching and Learning. Which I'm glad I did, since I don't normally read the The Economist.
When I, and a few select friends, were tossing around the idea of opening our own charter/private school we talked about the very illogical public school day hours. I know of schools that start their days at 7 AM, and are out by 12 noon. There are other schools that don't start until 9:30 and end at 3.
Lunch hour is approximately 30 minutes (which translates to about 20 for the teacher - don't even get me started on this). Recess is ten minutes long, twice a day. Intermediate grades only get it once.
I'm personally cool with having longer school days, with longer breaks. My tennis partner said when she was in school in Vermont, she had a full hour for lunch and two 30-minute recesses. How wonderful is that! What I'm NOT a big fan of is an extended school day with the same amount of recess. Or an extended school day that starts EARLIER. No thanks.
But Americans as a society really don't expect much out of our children. If we did, we wouldn't allow them to watch upwards of 4 hours of TV per day. This kid is an exception, and even he complained to a reporter about the ambivalence towards young achievement. It's great and news worthy when you do get something done. It's fine if you don't. And a lot don't because a) they don't know where or how to get started, and b) they don't have the initiative to find out.
So for that school that exists in my imagination only, we thought of the idea of a 10 AM - 6 PM school day. Mainly because students need to sleep at their natural cycle, and most teenager's sleep cycle is from midnight to 9 AM or so. That's 7 full hours on campus. At least one full hour devoted to lunch and recess, perhaps more. And half days on Saturdays.
Wouldn't that save money on after-school programs too? Or would that have to be spent on before-school programs (which, technically, some schools already have). The absolute value of time spent in school hasn't been extended terribly too much.