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High-Needs Schools to Lengthen School Day and Academic Year


The National Center on Time and Learning and the Ford Foundation recently announced their plans to help high-needs schools catch up on standardized test scores, as well as reap the advantages of electives and enrichment activities rarely offered to their students. The idea? With the aid of grant money, schools will lengthen the school day and year by approximately 300 hours. The anticipated start for the plan is the 2013-14 school year.

The Plan

According to The New York Times, five states have pledged their participation in this initiative: Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee. Some of the participating districts are Denver, East Hartford, Fall River, Rochester, and selected schools in Memphis. Under the three-year pilot program, 35 schools propose to lengthen the school day and year, while another 40 schools will lengthen class periods and after-school programs. All of the extra costs, including staffing and operating costs, will be covered through state and federal financing, in addition to the Ford grants.

The Rationale

The Ford Foundation reports that there are strong arguments supporting increased school hours. According to Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy, “Our reform bill had a number of objectives. For districts that are succeeding, we want state government to get out of the way. And for districts that are falling behind, we wanted to give them the ability to implement the reforms that we know achieve results for students. The additional funding we’re announcing today will allow for the intensive turnaround models that will help us close the nation’s largest achievement gap.”

Not only will struggling students be able to get more individualized instruction, they will be able to participate in more enrichment activities, like in the arts and music, which increase cognitive abilities. In order for students to be ready for higher education and a global workplace, they need more than just the basic curriculum.

Benefits of a Longer School Day

In a time where the struggling economy is forcing schools to pare their curriculum down to just the basics, Adam Kirk Edgerton from the Huffington Post sees this plan as having great potential for the most at-risk students. He says that his own adolescent experiences in high school band after school “saved his life.” These opportunities provide great distractions from the problems many students face outside of school walls and focus their energies into positive, constructive activities. He sees this pilot program as not only increasing test scores, but also allowing students opportunities to realize their passions.

Criticism

The New York Times also states that studies on the advantages of longer schools days and years so far have been mixed. In addition, many teachers have reported that compensation for working longer hours needs to be better and simply adding more time to a school day will not guarantee higher achievement. In response to this notion, Lisa Ubinas, the Ford Foundation president, argues that it is not “about adding time and doing more of the same. It’s about creating a learning day that suits the needs of our children, the realities of working parents and the commitment of our teachers. It’s a total school makeover.”

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