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A Federal Push for a Longer School Year

A few weeks ago, the bipartisan Time for Innovation Matters in Education Act was proposed in both houses of Congress, which, if passed, will establish a competitive grant program for states that want to add at least 300 hours to the school year in their underperforming schools.

Under the act, states can apply for grants that they will distribute to schools, districts, and community organizations for "expanded learning time" initiatives used to redesign their school calendars with additional hours. State education agencies and local districts will decide how schools will add the time, but in general, the hours are to be used for additional core academic study, enrichment activities, or teaching development/planning periods that will help improve schools with high percentages of underprivileged students.

"The TIME Act could be an important agenda item for education by providing disadvantaged students the opportunity to catch up and raise the achievement of all kids," Cynthia Brown, vice president of education policy at the Center for American Progress, told Education Week. "We need to demonstrate the value of expanded learning time and convince more states and districts to reallocate funds to implement it."

To apply for grants, state education agencies will be required to submit comprehensive plans for how they will determine which schools receive funds, how the schools re-structure their calendars, and how they will hold schools accountable for using the time effectively. Backed by Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Representatives Donald Payne (D-N.J.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), and Mike Honda (D-Calif.), the TIME Act will be on the table for voting in the next few months.

I recently spoke with Honda about the bill. A former educator himself—teacher, principal, and school board member—he said his experiences on the ground level were influential in his support for expanded learning time in high-need schools. Honda said the act would provide the necessary scalability potential through federal support (and incentive for states) so public schools have the opportunity to use extra time for school and student improvement.

"It's not just about schools, it's about changing the mindset of the general public about public education," Honda said of moving away from the "agrarian" model of six-hour school days, 180 days a year. "We understand that more time means better performance for students and closure of the achievement gap. We need to start making an investment in the time young people have to learn."

While many charter schools have known for longer days and school years, expanded learning time models have been gaining popularity in public schools the past few years. Most have been more local efforts (district level) or in the case of Massachusetts, a state initiative. Organizations like Citizen Schools and the National Center on Time and Learning have also worked with schools on restructuring their schools with added time.

Next week, I'll be attending some events on expanded learning time and will be continuing the conversation on the blog in the weeks to come.

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