Five states are getting set to announce that they will add up to 30 hours of instructional time to a percentage of their public schools. ABC News reports that starting in 2013, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee will be introducing longer school days as an experiment to determine if more learning time will work to boost student achievement and make American schools more competitive with their international counterparts.
In total 20,000 students spread across 40 schools will participate in the three-year pilot program, with additional schools added if the experiment proves to be successful. In particular, the pilot program will target schools that serve low-income families, with the aim of seeing if longer school days will work to shrink the income-achievement gap.
The final decision whether to participate will be left with the schools themselves. Those that choose to take part will work with school district officials, faculty and parents to make the most effective use of the additional time.
A mix of federal, state and district funds will cover the costs of expanded learning time, with the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning also chipping in resources. In Massachusetts, the program builds on the state's existing expanded-learning program. In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy is hailing it as a natural outgrowth of an education reform law the state passed in May that included about $100 million in new funding, much of it to help the neediest schools.
In a statement issued in support of the pilot, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that the additional time will allow schools to add more enrichment activities such as music programs and computer lessons. Such programs will aid in fully equipping students to participate in the more tech-focused economy of the 21st century.
This program is only the latest in a number of experiments currently being undertaken with a goal of improving educational outcomes for American students. In recent years, many states have approved the creation of charter school and voucher programs that allow families living in an area with underperforming public schools to receive money to send their kids to better-performing schools elsewhere. Many states are also putting into effect more rigorous teacher assessment systems in an effort to make sure that only effective instructors are leading classrooms, and which make it easier to weed out and fire those who underperform.
Historically, attempts to lengthen school days have run afoul of local and national teachers unions, with one such proposal in Chicago being one of the main causes for the teachers strike that closed city schools for nearly two weeks.
Just over 1,000 U.S. schools already operate on expanded schedules, an increase of 53 percent over 2009, according to a report being released Monday in connection with the announcement by the National Center on Time & Learning. The nonprofit group said more schools should follow suit but stressed that expanded learning time isn't the right strategy for every school.