The typical American school day lasts about eight hours. That’s long enough to squeeze in reading, writing, ’rithmatic, and a handful of other subjects. But it may not be enough for students to truly get ahead.

A recent report by the Center for American Progress, a progressive Washington think tank, examines high schools that implement extra learning time as part of their program. We’re talking required extra time, not voluntary after school offerings. Some principals add more hours to the school day. Others tack on more days to the school year itself, stretching things way into summer.

How they do it varies, but why they do it is more clear. “Expanding learning time may be the only way to catch kids up and get them on a pathway to productive adulthood,” says Cindy Brown, director of education Policy for the Center for American Progress.

For students who moan that eight hours on campus is enough, there’s good news. Extended time need not be in the classroom. In fact, some of the most successful programs bring kids onto college campuses or into real world work situations in the form of internships. Plain and simple, many high schoolers need to work. Schools that make this possible, while giving them a chance to test out a career or field of interest, gain high marks from students.

Longer doesn’t necessarily mean better. But when it’s combined with strong academic offerings, high expectations, and extra support, longer school days can help prepare students. Not just for college, but for life.