05/11/2012

Coalition promotes extended time as a path to success

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AFT president Randi Weingarten joined a diverse group of more than 100 education leaders May 10 as a member of the Time to Succeed Coalition, announcing a commitment to add more learning time to the school day, and pledging to ensure American children have the time they need to learn.

It is about making good use of time rather than simply having more time, Weingarten said at a news conference. "Let's use time much more effectively, in a way that helps ensure that kids have the arts, the sciences, the sports they need," as well as "the on-time, just-in-time tutoring and enrichment they need."

Extended and redesigned learning time—whether a longer school day, a longer school year, or adjusted schedules within existing schedules—is expected to be particularly effective in low-income schools. It works on three levels: by giving students more opportunities to succeed in core academic subjects like language arts and math; adding hours for subjects often sliced from school budgets, like the arts, science and technology, and languages; and giving low-income children a safe and stimulating place to spend their afternoons.

The coalition is committed to including the voices of teachers and their unions in planning extended learning time. Approaching the project in such an inclusive way will help ensure that redesigned learning time is based on the reality of the classroom, and increase its possibility for success.

Pointing out the AFT's role in establishing and supporting extended school days in Boston and Newark, N.J., Weingarten underscored the importance of teacher participation. "It is very important to have teachers on the frontline, saying what they think kids need and how to contour it."

"We certainly recognize that success on the ground depends on collaboration," agreed Chris Gabrieli, co-chair of the coalition and chair of the National Center on Time & Learning. "Top-down, forced time" is not conducive to success, he added, and the coalition's plan, "highlights the need to be sustainable and fair for teachers."

To that end, Gabrieli pointed out the availability of $4.5 billion in federal resources for expanded school days, which will make this sort of programming accessible even in the most economically challenged communities. In addition, the Ford Foundation, whose president, Luis Ubiñas is co-chairing the coalition, has committed $50 million over three years.

The new coalition is purposefully diverse, and besides union leaders includes administrators, education policy leaders, scholars, mayors, business executives and charter school founders. "There are many issues in education that separate people, and yet this is an issue that brings people together," said Gabrieli. "It's an on-the-ground movement ... and it's a leadership movement."

Education advocates are enthusiastic in part because extended learning time, whether it is longer days or longer school years, is a proven tool for improved learning. Some 1,000 schools have already added hours to the day, or days to the school year, and redesigned how they deliver instruction, narrowing achievement gaps and expanding opportunities for a well-rounded education.

"Our results are nothing short of astounding," said Jeff Smith, superintendent of the Balsz Elementary School District in Phoenix, where the school day was expanded by 20 days and, after two years, increased achievement up to 40 percent in specific grade levels. At Boston's Clarence R. Edwards Middle School, where 300 hours were added to the school year, achievement gaps in math and English diminished dramatically, and teachers, who have taken leadership roles, are allotted time for collaboration and planning each week.

The coalition hopes to double the number of students with expanded schedules over the next two years, adding more signatories to the coalition and turning the movement "from theory to practice," said Gabrieli.

"When teachers have more time to teach and students have more time to learn," said Smith, "students can perform at very high levels." [Virginia Myers]

May 11, 2012