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Mass. Business Leaders Want Students to Spend More Time on Learning

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The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE), a group of business leaders working to influence education policy to improve Massachusetts public schools, has released "The New Opportunity to Lead," a 120-page report describing its vision for what education should look like in 2030. Part of that vision: U.S. students will spend more, and differently structured, time on learning.

As Education Week's Sean Cavanaugh wrote in a blog post on Monday, the report calls for Massachusetts, which consistently ranks at or near the top of state scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, to learn from top-performing foreign jurisdictions like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Academically, "this is the best state in America," report co-author Sir Michael Barber told Education Week. The goal, he said, is to ask, "what would it be like for Massachusetts to be the best state in the world?" The report recommends wide-ranging changes, including more autonomy for schools, a higher bar for teacher quality, and greater personalization of learning.

In spite of the state's top standing in national rankings, business leaders are not satisfied with Massachussetts' schools. A survey of Massachusetts executives commissioned by MBAE and also released this week reveals that 90 percent of employers believe the state's education system needs a moderate or major change, with only 20 percent giving its K-12 schools an A or B for job market preparation. The survey also shows that many business leaders think extending learning time can improve preparation. When asked what areas of education reform the business community should focus on "a great deal," 42 percent of employers chose extending the school day, making it a higher priority than lifting the cap on charter schools or giving school leaders more authority.

And indeed, "The New Opportunity to Lead" proposes increasing learning time to solve one of business leaders' top concerns: increasing the number of high-performing students. (The latest PISA data show that, compared with Massachusetts students, three times as many Shanghai students are achieving top scores in math, the report notes.) The authors suggest that Massachusetts offer after-school classes, out-of-school online courses, summer school, or even full-time school for academically gifted students.

Other ways the group would like to see educators manipulate time:

  • Design learning to take place anywhere and anytime. "This means giving all students equal access to out-of-hours learning opportunities," the report says. "It will also undoubtedly involve technology and new, blended learning approaches," in which students receive instruction online as well as in a brick-and-mortar setting outside their homes.
  • Build time into the day for teacher training. While international studies indicate that teachers learn most effectively from observing other teachers in the classroom, U.S. teachers receive most of their professional development through workshops outside the classroom, the report notes. The authors recommend redesigning the school schedule to allow professional development to be built into the working day and the working week.
  • Provide extended learning time for low-income schools. Extending the school day is "a major part of the answer to the challenge of out-of-hours inequalities of opportunity," the report says. The experience of 19 Massachusetts schools that have increased hours through the state's Expanded Learning Time initiative "showed that, when implemented well, the use of extended learning time can offer significant benefits to low-income students and their teachers," the authors write.
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