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Indiana Officials Are Tinkering With Time

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School officials in Indiana are looking to longer school days to help students get on grade level and give teachers more opportunities to plan lessons together.

All elementary schools in the state's third largest school district, Evansville and Vanderburgh County, will lengthen their school day by 34 minutes in the 2014-15 school year, the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation School Board recently announced. The new school day will last almost seven hours, from 8:15 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. High schools and middle schools in the district already have a seven-hour day.

"We have had [one of] the shortest elementary days in the state for quite some time, and that's a list we don't want to be on," Superintendent David Smith told me. "Any time we can have our students work longer with our incredible staff, it's a benefit."

But the extra half hour will also allow schools to schedule more collaborative planning time for teachers, in which they can share ideas, Smith said. "We know the overall gains for students are greater when teachers have the opportunity to collaborate, but we really didn't have a structure in place to provide that specifically."

Principals who've introduced collaborative planning periods have replaced teachers' personal planning time once or twice a week with group planning sessions. "By adding more time, we'll be giving teachers back some of their personal planning time," Smith explained. "Not only will teachers have the benefit of professional time together, they will also have a less frenetic day."

Meanwhile, Lewis Ferebee, superintendent of the Indianapolis Public Schools, said at a talk at the Central Library in Indianapolis last week that he's interested in exploring extending school time in at least some of the city's schools to give a boost to students who are performing below grade level.

"The research is very clear, especially in literacy," he told Chalkbeat Indiana Bureau Chief Scott Elliott, the moderator of the event, which was sponsored by local PBS and NPR affiliate WFYI Media. "If you are more than two years behind you need at least 90 to 120 minutes more of instruction compared to those students who are on grade level to get on grade level and surpass those students with achievement. What we have to do is find creative ways to ensure students get that time."

"Unfortunately, students may get that time by losing out on something else," Ferebee continued. "I'd like to see us explore options where students get the arts, they get the physical activity they need and still get that remediation time. Sometimes I think that may require us to have a longer school day for select students or select schools."

"The traditional 180-day, six-and-a-half-hour model is antiquated," he said. "If you look at many of the charter schools in Indianapolis that are getting results, you either see a longer school day or a longer school year. I think that's something we need to explore for IPS."

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