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Can Longer School Days Close the Achievement Gap?

Graphics courtesy of the Center for Time & Learning. Read the full report here.

In an experiment aimed to raise achievement in America’s public schools, 11 school districts across five states — Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee — will be extending their class time learning by at least 300 hours, starting in 2013. The three-year pilot program, which will serve more than 20,000 students in 40 schools, hopes to improve under-performing schools and make students more competitive internationally.

What is expanded time?

By a standard school calendar, students attend six-and-a-half hour school days for 180 days a year. Of the 1,000 schools already participating in expanded time schedules, students attend on average 7.8 hours of school a day, according to a report by the National Center on Time & Learning.

Under the pilot program, 11 school districts will add at least 300 more hours to the academic calendar by extending hours within a day or adding more days to the academic year.

Who is paying for more time?

The pilot program is made possible by a mix of private and public funds. The Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning will lay down $3 million over the next three years. Additional operating costs will be paid for by existing state and federal funds, such as waivers from No Child Left Behind.

Does expanded time work?

Research has been mixed. Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist cited by many proponents for expanded-learning, claims that extra tutoring and at least 300 more hours of instruction are keys to a successful education.

However, the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education cites that schools in high performing countries like Finland and Japan have less instruction time than schools in the U.S., reports the Associated Press.

Education leaders, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, point out that it’s not just about more hours in a day. “The goal here is not more time,” said Duncan at an event on Monday. “The goal here is more learning.”

Who will benefit from expanded time?

While leaders argue that more classroom time is good for everyone, they hope to help low-performing, disadvantaged students catch up. Luis Ubiñas, the president of the Ford Foundation, even argues that there is “no greater equalizer” than having students spend more time in school for quality education.

According to the National Center on Time and Learning study, at least 75 percent of students at more than half of all expanded-time schools are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, compared to 20 percent of all public schools in the U.S.

Part of extending learning is also about providing more opportunities, say education officials. By personalizing education, educators hope to redesign an enriched curriculum of arts, sciences and sports with partnerships from community organizations.

Weigh in:

What do you think about extended learning? Can it help close the achievement gap? Why or why not? Join in the conversation below or on our Facebook page.

American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities across America find solutions to the dropout crisis.

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