Published Online: September 6, 2006
Published in Print: September 6, 2006, as Mass. Schools Experiment With Extra Time

Mass. Schools Experiment With Extra Time

Ten public schools in Massachusetts will test whether more learning time can boost academic performance and close the achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers.

On the first day of school this fall, the schools in five cities launched a new schedule that extends the school day by as much as three hours. Chosen as part of a $6.5 million statewide demonstration called the Expanded Learning Time Initiative, the schools are getting an additional $1,300 per student to pay for the extra time spent on core academic subjects and to bring back or maintain enrichment programs such as music, art, and physical education.

Roughly 4,700 students—about 75 percent of them low-income—who are enrolled in prekindergarten through 8th grade are part of the extended-day project in schools in Boston, Cambridge, Malden, Fall River, and Worcester. The Massachusetts Department of Education chose the schools after they submitted plans for how the longer day would raise student achievement, and add time for both enrichment programs for students and professional development for teachers.

Doing More With More

As part of the Expanded Learning Time Initiative, 10 Massachusetts schools created plans for how they will use the extra time. Some examples:

Martin Luther King Jr. School, Cambridge

The 240-student school, serving prekindergarten through grade 8, will open from 7:55 a.m. to 3:55 p.m.

• Students will have an additional 30 minutes a day each for literacy, mathematics, and science and project-based learning.
• Children can choose from eight elective courses in such subjects as journalism, yoga, Spanish, and filmmaking.

Salemwood School, Malden

The 1,200-student school, serving grades K-8, will be open from 7:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

• Instruction in England/language arts will be two hours a day.
• Math lessons will take up 90 minutes a day.
• Students will take elective courses that include choices such as debate, drama, sign language, and book club.

Adding time to the school day is especially critical now, as more schools fall behind on the academic progress required of them under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, said Jennifer Davis, the president and co-founder of Massachusetts 2020, a nonprofit education organization that pushed for the initiative. Half the 10 schools have missed state targets for test scores several years in a row; the other half fell short of state targets either for the first time in 2005 or for the first time in several years.

“The most important set of changes we have seen in education have to do with setting standards and accountability,” said Ms. Davis, a U.S. Department of Education deputy assistant secretary in the Clinton administration. “So we’ve raised the standards for our kids, but we haven’t given them the learning time that is necessary to reach those standards.”

Chris Gabrieli, who is also a co-founder of Massachusetts 2020 and a high-profile supporter of the longer school day, is a Democratic candidate for governor in the state’s Sept. 19 primary.

At Martin Luther King Jr. School in Cambridge, the 240 prekindergarten through 8th grade pupils will spend two more hours at school each day than they have in previous years, said Principal Carole Learned-Miller.

The school will devote an extra 30 minutes each to literacy instruction, mathematics, and project-based learning in science, she said.

Recess and Electives

The school staff also built in 15 additional minutes of recess and a block during the middle of each day for students to take elective courses, such as yoga and sculpture. Much of the enrichment program will be provided by community organizations that were already working with the school’s students in after-school programs, Ms. Learned-Miller said.

“This extra time allows us to do the things that we philosophically believe in, to increase achievement by actually being able to fully implement the core academic programs like our literacy collaborative,” she said. “We are giving these children a choice to take electives they have a passion for.”

Paul Toner, the vice president for the Massachusetts Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, said giving teachers the option of working longer days and offering fair compensation to those who volunteered to do so eased negotiations in Cambridge.

“Not every single teacher in those schools will be working a longer day,” said Mr. Toner, who was the president of the Cambridge Teachers Union when it negotiated how to compensate teachers for the extra time. “It was truly voluntary.”

Though 10 schools were ultimately chosen for the program’s first year, several more around the state were interested. Some of those, said Ms. Davis, met resistance from parents, particularly those who are middle-income, who didn’t want the extra time in school to interfere with other activities.

“The fact that this hasn’t been done before is in and of itself a barrier,” she said. “We tended to find broader support for this in our urban centers, where parents really want more core educational time for their children as well as enrichment opportunities that their children may not have had access to.”

Parental Opposition

At one of the two K-8 schools in Malden that proposed to be part of the extended-day experiment, parents resisted, said Joan Connelly, the superintendent of the 6,500-student district near Boston. Many parents at Forestdale School opposed the longer day, so the district’s school board voted to expand the daily schedule only at Salemwood School, she said.

Instruction and Apprenticeships

Ten Massachusetts schools created plans for how they will use extra time under a new state initiative. An example:

Clarence R. Edwards Middle School, Charlestown

The 414-student school, serving grades 6-8, will operate from 7:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 7:30 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. on Fridays.

• Students will receive four additional hours of math instruction per week. Student teams will practice and compete in math weekly.

• The school will offer up to four additional hours of instruction in literacy, science, and social studies a week, as well as up to four extra hours of arts and music instruction. New enrichment activities that focus on writing and athletics will be offered.

• Sixth graders can serve apprenticeships in local businesses, law firms, and community organizations.

• Seventh and 8th graders can take two elective courses, such as robotics, Web-site design, and photography.

As of last week, the 1,200 students at the K-8 Salemwood School were attending school for an extra hour and a half, Ms. Connelly said. The superintendent said she would eventually like to see a longer day at all of the district’s seven schools.

“I feel very strongly that what teachers do in the classroom with students is of the highest value, and that having more time to both directly serve students and to work with each other is a goal towards which I will work,” she said. “I expect to see good results from this.”

One of the most vocal opponents to the longer day is Michael Sheehan, the president of the Malden City Council.

“It’s not a good idea in any of our schools, because our class sizes are too big,” Mr. Sheehan said. “The answer is to make class sizes smaller and more manageable for our teachers to teach and our kids to learn in the time they already have.”

Whether the state will provide funding in future years for additional schools to lengthen the day is an open question. So is whether more districts and teachers will embrace the idea.

“I think we have to wait and see what the results are going to show us from these 10 schools,” said Mr. Toner. “That will determine whether they can win more converts for this or not.”

Vol. 26, Issue 02, Pages 30,33

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