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Network Promotes 200-Day Academic Calendar in Public Schools

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Generation Schools Network, a national nonprofit organization that's figured out a way to add a month to the academic year without increasing the work year for teachers—typically the main expense that drives up costs—recently released a report explaining its approach.

(The report was funded by the Ford Foundation, which also supports coverage of more and better use of learning time in Education Week.)

Providing extended learning time without increasing costs was a key goal when the group implemented its model for a 200-day school year at Brooklyn Generation School, a public high school in New York City, in 2007, and more recently at West Generation Academy, a public school with students in 6th, 7th, 9th, and 10th grades in Denver, Colo. (The school is scheduled to add grades 11 and 12 by 2015/2016).

"We've seen too many extended learning time initiatives where there's initial short-term funding that runs out after two or three years, and people build structures that aren't sustainable," Jonathan Spear, the co-founder of Generation Schools Network, told me.

Now the group has ambitions to grow a small network of schools in Brooklyn and Denver and expand its consulting work with school districts and nonprofits interested in extending learning time.

Key features of the Generation Schools Network model:

  • Teacher schedules are staggered. Teaching starts in mid-August and finishes at the end of June. The school has a one-month vacation in July, and teachers have two additional four-week breaks during the school year, consisting of three weeks of vacation and one week of team planning and professional development. While the teachers are off, the students remain in school, taking month-long intercession courses designed to boost career- and college-readiness taught by a separate group of instructors who rotate from grade to grade throughout the year.
  • Teachers serve multiple roles. There are three types of teachers at a Generation Schools Network school, and each has two roles. Foundation teachers teach core courses like English, math, and science; their secondary role is to teach one elective course or assist with administrative tasks. Studio teachers teach electives like foreign languages and physical education and provide special education services; they also have administrative duties ranging from tech support to tracking compliance with district rules. Intensive teachers teach intercession courses; their second job is serving as college counselors. With fewer purely administrative staff members—and no full-time college counselors—schools have more teaching capacity.

I asked Spear what the biggest challenge to implementing the Generation Schools Network model has been. "Surprisingly, there have been remarkably few barriers tied to contracts and policies," he said. "It's not easy to get a different calendar to work within a district or to have different types of courses recognized by a district system, but we've been able to get it done."

The United Federation of Teachers, the union for New York City teachers, approved an exemption to its rules dictating when teachers can work for Brooklyn Generation, allowing the turnaround school to stagger teacher time, and West Generation has innovation status in Denver, which allows the school to restructure schedules.

"The biggest challenge is that people know it's a different structure, but it's hard to change mindsets and practices," Spear said. "For example, we have a lot of students at Brooklyn Generation who are responsible for younger siblings. So when the school is open during Presidents' Day week in February, there are lots of families who are expecting the older sibling to be home with the younger sibling for those four days. We're committed to an extended school year, so the principals have conversations with the parents about solving the problem."

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