Boston Joins Growing Ranks of Districts With Longer School Days
Teacher pay often a stumbling block
The Boston school board's decision last month to begin adding 40 minutes to the school day is the latest in a steady trickle of school districts looking to expand extended-learning-time initiatives systemwide.
"We're just now starting to see districts take the leap and expand districtwide," said Tiffany Miller, the director of education policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank.
There are no hard numbers on this trend, but 11 Massachusetts districts with some schools on an extended schedule are also moving toward districtwide implementation, as are the Camden and Elizabeth, N.J., school systems. In New York—where Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers have extended-learning-time initiatives—Governor Andrew Cuomo created a $24 million grant program last year to support districts that want to add time to the school day.
The National Center on Time and Learning, a Boston-based group that promotes schools' efforts to extend learning time, estimates that more than 1,500 individual schools across the country have expanded learning time.
The Boston plan, which received final approval last week from the school board on a 5 to 1 vote, would provide the equivalent of about an extra month of school in about 60 of the district's elementary and middle schools. The agreement followed years of on-again, off-again negotiations with the city, the union, and the 57,000-student district.
"I think the Boston agreement is going to be groundbreaking and other districts are going to really watch," said Jennifer Davis, the co-founder and president of NCTL, especially given that Boston is the largest district in the state and has been traditionally a very strong union district. Earlier last month, the Boston teachers' union approved an agreement paving the way for the program by a margin of 4 to 1.
'On the Radar'
Ms. Davis said she has been receiving calls from districts all over the country seeking the organization's help in planning for expanded learning.
"It is an issue that is more and more on the radar in these urban districts that are just not succeeding for kids, and I think the high-performing charter school networks like the KIPPs and Uncommon Schools are causing a lot of attention because of their successes," said Ms. Davis.
Advocates said many of the districts coming on board in recent years have taken a lesson from administrators and educators in the Meriden, Conn., public school system, which decided in 2011 to explore lengthening the day at some of its elementary schools.
"There was nothing to go by," recalled middle school literacy teacher Erin Benham, the president of the Meriden Federation of Teachers. "We were sort of creating our own model," she said of the 9,100-student, high-poverty district.
The NCTL collects examples of contracts and letters of agreement between districts and teachers' unions that define the purpose of adding time, spell out the teachers' role in planning how that time will be spent, and specify teachers' pay for working longer days.
Compensation can be a stumbling block. Boston teachers rejected an earlier proposal that would have paid them $16.67 an hour for the additional time. The agreement they approved more than doubles that amount at $37.20 per hour, which is about $6 less than the average regular salary, said Ms. Davis, who helped develop the proposal. Her organization will also work with the schools as they map out how to use the additional time.
The extra pay is written into the agreement as a stipend; it's not included in the teachers' pay scale.
That differs from place to place, but stipends are safer for districts, said Linda Kaboolian, a researcher at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and the author of the book, "Win-Win Labor-Management Collaboration in Education."
"I think it's very wise that the districts make it clear that this is a stipend because, without a doubt, it means they're not responsible if the money runs out," she said.
Stipends vs. Regular Pay
It's also better for teachers, she added. While researching her book, she said teachers agreed with the research findings showing that the more time children spend in school, the more they learn. Their complaint was that working the longer hours would disrupt their families' lives, especially if they're raising children of their own who need to be picked up from day care or school and taken to after-school activities.
That's what Meriden teachers like about the stipend, agreed Ms. Benham, the Meriden union president. Unlike Boston, where all the teachers in participating elementary and middle schools will be required to work a longer day, Meriden teachers can opt in or out.
Those that do commit to the additional 100 minutes a day earn an additional $7,500 annual stipend. The rest of the teachers are on staggered schedules, some coming in earlier than they used to but leaving earlier, and others arriving later and staying later.
The Meriden agreement also gives the teachers flexibility to split the additional time so that, for example, one teacher can stay late on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, while another picks up the hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
It's critical that everyone agrees ahead of time on the purpose and goals for extending the school day or year, said Carol McElvain, the managing director of the Afterschool and Expanded Learning division of the American Institutes for Research. Ms. McElvain said teachers should negotiate specific activities in the contract or memorandum of understanding with the district, otherwise the extra time will become wasted. "It shouldn't be, 'we're going to add 20 minutes [and] therefore our grades should improve.' That's too broad a brush of what the outcome will be," she cautioned.
Vol. 34, Issue 19, Page 7