Extended learning time

The Massachusetts 2020 foundation released a report today showing that a group of schools experimenting with longer learning days had dramatically improved their MCAS scores.  See http://www.mass2020.org/ for the full

Belmont and Arlington MCAS scores are pretty good already.  Most of the
participating schools are responding to poor MCAS scores.  Cambridge does
have one school participating already.

The concept of extending the learning day is of interest even for higher
scoring schools.  While in lower scoring schools, extended learning time
might be used to strengthen basic skills measured by the MCAS, in higher
scoring schools, extended learning time could be used to redress excessive
focus on the MCAS.

Many parents express concern that we are “teaching to the test” at the
expense of building collaborative skills, creativity and critical thinking.
With some more time in the day, teachers might not have to choose.

 State education leaders are eager to see some school systems in the
high-performing category take a look at the extended learning program.

Governor Patrick is a strong advocate of extended learning and is working
closely with his former opponent, Chris Gabrieli to advance the
idea.  Massachusetts 2020, the group that released the report was founded by
2006 gubernatorial candidate Chris Gabrieli.  In the
legislature, Representative Haddad, the House Chair of the Eduction
Committee is also a strong advocate.

Representative Haddad appeared along with Gabrieli at a “summit” on extended
learning today which coincided with the release of the report.  Governor
Patrick appeared via videotape while winging his way to China for a trade
visit.  They all had the same message — we need to compete in a global
economy and extended learning time can help better prepare our children.

The summit included useful presentations by schools that are experimenting
with the concept.  There is no agreed formula for how to use the additional
time.  All agree that, although additional time on task always helps one
absorb ideas, adding time at the end of the school day may or may not
actually help.  One needs to carefully redesign the school day to take
advantage of the additional time.

Most systems seem to find it helpful to use some of the additional time for
students to interact with teachers as advisors and for teachers to
collaborate more with each other in curriculum development.  Some have added
enrichment electives, including more physical education, as well as beefing
up time in math, English and the sciences.

School administrators designing an new schedule need to work closely with
teachers and with community groups that may already be working with kids in
after school hours to create a broadly supported program.  Where this has
been done, the extended day seems to have helped strengthen a sense of
common purpose and pride in the school.  Expansion of electives helps
students take more ownership in their studies.

Last year, the legislature approved the Governor’s request for $13,000,000
in planning grants and implementation grants.  The Commissioner of
Education’s preliminary budget recommendation is to double this amount for
Fiscal 2009.

The implementation grants run up to $1,300 per student — an amount intended
to be sufficient to fully fund the cost of the program.  Typically teachers
are awarded a percentage increase in salary proportional to the increase in
their day length, which is likely to be roughly 25%.

The terms of the legislation require that entire schools be converted to the
program with student participation being mandatory.  Of course, not all of
the schools in a district need to participate.  One could try the program at
the elementary, the middle or the high school level.

The planning grant cycle is passed for this year — but now is a reasonable
time to start discussion about applying for planning grants to be
awarded in the fall of 2008 to plan for programs to be implemented in the
fall of 2009.

The 2008 legislation can be viewed at
http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/seslaw07/sl070061.htm (scan to line

All of this needs to kept in the context of limited funding.  Schools that
have already taken advantage of the state’s grant program are hoping that it
will continue, but despite visible leadership support, there is no generally
received commitment to indefinite expansion of funding.

Education administrators not facing a crisis in MCAS scores may be
appropriately reluctant to invest time in a planning process around extended
learning time when the funding window may close after a year or two or

Additionally, the expanded use of online  learning may allow more learning
to occur outside the school walls.  While more high quality learning time is
important, there may be better ways to increase learning time than to
extendi the actual length of the school day.

There will be a significant debate next year over the level of state funding
for education after the Governor releases the report of his education task
force, expected in April.  The outcome of that debate will clarify the
outlook for funding extended learning time.  The task force also has a
group considering the new learning possibilities opened by online

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.