Adding school time

Is the answer to redressing the way the nation lags behind many other countries in educational ranking as simple as having American students spend more time in school?

That’s what the Obama administration and educational leaders across the country appear to be thinking. A pilot program involving five states — Connecticut, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee — is scheduled to get under way next school year, with some 40 public schools taking part.

While the Massachusetts schools that will be participating in the program are in other parts of the state, one district in Franklin County is no stranger to more hours in the school day, and can serve as an example of what the change might achieve. The verdict is still out on that.

For a number of years now, several schools within the Greenfield Public Schools have participated in the Extended Learning Time program, where added time has been used to bolster academics as well as explore other interests as well.

The new program — called the TIME (Time for Innovation Matters in Education) Collaborative — is intended to boost academic achievement, with a particular eye toward schools where economic circumstances factor significantly in student performance. Along with adding hours to the day or days to the length of the school-year calendar, the program, which is a partnership between the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning, will let the participating districts “re-imagine” how to use that extra time.

“Whether educators have more time to enrich instruction or students have more time to learn how to play an instrument and write computer code, adding meaningful in-school hours is a critical investment that better prepares children to be successful in the 21st century,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the announcement of the program.

If the additional time actually translates into “meaningful in-school hours” then it is hard to argue against the program. But care has to be taken that in-school time isn’t just after-school care ... and that critical downtime for students becomes almost non-existent.

And while adding quality time will undoubtedly help students, there are other factors, including how education and its importance is valued by families, that come into play. Thus it is important to get everyone on board to provide the necessary support, including financial ones, so that the program has a chance to succeed.

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