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Kennedy to promote extended school days

Resource type: News

The Boston Globe |

US Senator Edward M. Kennedy plans today in Washington to tout Massachusetts’ push for longer school days as a national model, saying students need additional time to master 21st-century skills in a new global economy. Massachusetts is the first to undertake a state-sponsored initiative to lengthen time spent in some schools beyond the traditional six-hours-a-day, 180-day school year, according to Kennedy’s office. Advocates say increasing classroom time should boost student achievement, especially in urban districts where parents tend to be less involved in their children’s schooling. But advocates say districts cannot simply add hours. The quality of those additional hours must be strong, and educational programs might have to be rethought, they say. “The federal government should lend support to these efforts so we can ensure that students have the time they need to master challenging and new opportunities for enrichment – including art and music,” said Kennedy in an advance copy of his speech. Massachusetts this year dedicated $6.5 million for a total of 10 elementary and middle schools in Boston, Cambridge, Fall River, Malden, and Worcester, to lengthen their schedules by 30 percent. Most of the schools have lengthened the day by about two hours, while a few have added extra days. Other Bay State schools, including some high schools, could follow. Because of about $324,000 in state grants, more than six dozen schools in about 30 districts are studying the idea this year. “This is just an incredibly promising reform,” said Michael Sabin, principal of Edwards Middle School in Charlestown. “This has the most potential of narrowing the achievement gap.” Edwards Middle School has added 12 hours of learning a week. The 400 students at the grades 6-8 school attend classes from 7:20 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, they go 7:20 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. All students must take a second math class, in which students work in teams of 10 on problems that are based on lessons earlier in the day. At the end of the week, the teams face off in competitions that are set up like the quiz show “Jeopardy!” or a baseball game, during which students answer questions that could be a single, double, or triple hit. Students also participate during those extra hours in robotics, musical theater, band, book groups, and other electives. Many of the classes had been offered as after-school programs, but no more than half the students attended the programs, even though the activities were free and well promoted, Sabin said. “If faced with the choice of hanging out with friends outside of school or staying in school, they wouldn’t stay at school to get the help they needed,” Sabin said. “Now, instead of trying to lure them in with tricks, requirements, or threats, this is part of their school day, and we can provide them with the programs they need.” Some middle school students, including sixth-graders at Edwards, take part in apprenticeship programs in law firms and other businesses. Because a longer school day requires a lot of planning for additional classes, new ways of teaching, and partnerships with outside organizations, Kennedy intends to file legislation that will provide schools nationwide with a total of $50 million to help administer the change. The goal is to increase the amount to $150 million by 2012. The legislation would create fellowships for recent college graduates interested in working in a school setting while deciding whether they want to pursue careers as teachers. Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, plans to share details about the legislation during an address this morning at the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington that is sponsoring a conference on longer school days. Also scheduled to participate are Massachusetts Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll, former gubernatorial candidate Chris Gabrieli, and some local administrators and teachers, who are expected to talk about the state’s experience this year with longer school days. A report by the Center for American Progress, which has been following the Bay State’s experiment, so far has concluded that adding learning time requires strong teacher and union involvement from the start of planning, a comprehensive redesign of educational programs, and additional financial and technical assistance from government and philanthropists. Lengthening the school day, rather than the school year, tends to be an easier sell, said Jennifer Davis, president of Massachusetts 2020, a nonprofit she founded with Gabrieli that aims to increase educational opportunities for students and has worked with Bay State schools on adding extra learning time. Lengthening the year, she said, increases busing costs and sometimes creates alarm among parents who do not want the summer break shortened. A few school districts, such as Peabody last year, pulled out of studying the feasibility of a longer school day or year in part because parents objected. “The summer piece will come,” said Davis, noting research has shown that students’ knowledge in math erodes during the two-month summer break. “If you want all children to reach higher standards, you need the additional time to make it possible.”

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