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Colo. District Offers Window Into Experiments With Longer School Day

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By guest blogger Erik Robelen

It's one thing to make a decision to extend the school day. It's another to decide what exactly to do with that time, and to work out the logistics.

A recent story out of Boulder, Colo., describes the experience of an elementary and middle school that are taking the plunge this school year.

Some students at Angevine Middle School arrive extra early, at 7:45 a.m., to take classes that provide additional support or enrichment, according to the article this month in the Daily Camera. A book club, a film class, math courses, and jazz band and orchestra are among the early-morning offerings.

The school also redesigned its regular schedule with help from the Time Collaborative, a pilot program launched in 2012 to develop expanded learning time programs at schools in five states. It's led by the National Center on Time and Learning and supported in Colorado by the state education department and the Legacy Foundation, the story explains. The Ford Foundation also has supported the Time Collaborative. (In addition, the Ford Foundation supports Education Week's coverage of more and better use of time.)

As we reported recently, the Time Collaborative recently expanded, going to additional schools and students in the five participating states of Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee.

A big catch with Angevine was a decision to try to make the changes without spending additional money. And so, six Angevine teachers agreed to start their day earlier, the story says. The school even shortened its passing periods to gain a little time. Some of the early-arrival teachers reported a positive experience, with smaller class sizes enabling them to experiment a little with instruction. (The story does not indicate whether the teachers get paid extra, or are permitted to end their day sooner.)

At Boulder's Pioneer Elementary, officials opted to push the end of the day later by 45 minutes, to 3:20 p.m. This allows for longer blocks of math and literacy instruction, as well as a block for what school officials called "personal learning time," the story says. One 5th grade teacher asked her students to spend the first six weeks of "personal learning time" by developing a "passion project" to research and present to the rest of the class. To help make the longer day work, teachers reportedly agreed to move their preparation and collaboration time inside the regular school day instead of before or after school.

Meanwhile, in Needham, Mass., school officials are looking to extend the school day by 25 minutes at the elementary level and 10 minutes at middle school, reports the Boston Globe. To make this possible, an increase in the local property tax would likely be needed, the story said. The extra time at the elementary level would amount to 75 additional hours over the academic year, with extended courses envisioned in P.E., Spanish, the arts, technology, and even robotics and engineering.

The story estimates the cost of the extended school day to be up to $715,000, including hiring 9 to 13 elementary teachers. It remains to be seen how local taxpayers would feel about the change, though a school official quoted in the story suggests that the longer day would appeal to many families.

It's a good reminder that efforts to extend the school day usually include costs that must be weighed in making the switch. As always, there's the trade-off of investing in one educational intervention or another. Is a longer school day the best strategy? What about smaller class sizes, investing in technology, new curricular materials, or additional teacher professional development?

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