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Extended Learning Time Initiative Moves Forward in New York

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New York is looking for school districts to come up with promising proposals that lengthen the amount of time students spend in school.

One of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's top education priorities for this year, the state's new Extended Learning Time Grant Program will provide $20 million in competitive grants to districts over each of the next three years.

Last month, the New York education department released a request for proposals outlining what the state was looking for. The central focus is to extend the school day, week, or year in ways that improve academic learning.

"The intent of this program is to provide school districts the opportunity to transform and redesign the school day, week, and year in order to better meet the needs of its students and school community and improve student achievement," the department says.

Applications are due later this month and funding will be available as early as January for programs starting both in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.

Proposals need to add at least 25 percent more time to the academic calendar, or 300 more hours per year. The programs can be implemented either districtwide or in select school buildings, and the focus of the programming should be on improving academic achievement. In the RFP, the state agency said that charter schools are not eligible to apply.

Some reports, including this one from Gothamschools.org, have pointed out how the support for an extended school day seemed to be somewhat of a departure for Gov. Cuomo, an ardent advocate for charter schools who has aligned himself with groups calling for aggressive reform to the state's school systems. 

The story notes that Cuomo last year established an education reform commission "as the engine to drive his promise to shake up the state's school system, which ... he painted as excessively expensive, under-performing, and driven by interest groups." But, the story says, his more recent proposals "struck a less acerbic tone, endorsing policies that won the approval of a diverse set of groups—and a much more tepid reaction from the most aggressive reformers."

In a January story, Education Week offered an overview of the governor's package of education initiatives, including for extended learning time, as well as to create a new class of higher-paid "master teachers. In making the case for extended learning time, Cuomo cited other nations that have outperformed the United States on global assessments, such as Canada and South Korea, which he said have 10 or 20 more school days per year on average than the United States.

However, the governor's plans, based in large part on the recommendations of a state education reform commission, sparked disappointment in some circles.

B. Jason Brooks, a spokesman for the Clifton Park, N.Y.-based Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability, which supports "parent trigger" legislation, more charter school options, and tax credits for private school tuition, said he worried that those recommendations were sending the governor off in the wrong direction.

"Instead, what he got was a pack of watered-down reforms, all good ideas, mind you, but nothing dramatic that's going to increase student achievement and dramatically reform the state's educational system, which is needed," Brooks said in the Education Week story.

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