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Expanded-Learning Schools Might Lose State Funding

Two Boston area middle schools that receive state money to expand the school day may lose their funding if they fail to meet state accountability standards for the second year in a row.

As I mentioned in another blog item, the Massachusetts state department of education and the nonprofit Massachusetts 2020 launched an initiative in 2005 to fund schools that wanted to add at least 300 hours to the year for additional academic, enrichment, and teacher-development time at underperforming schools. Today, the funding—$17.5 million two years ago and $13.9 million this year—supports 19 schools throughout the state that serve at-risk students, 78 percent of whom are from low-income families

While most of the initiative-funded schools have seen significant improvements in student academic performance, Mitchell Chester, the state's commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said Mario Umana Middle School and James Timilty School appear to be exceptions, according to letters from the commissioner sent on May 16, courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Education.

Chester said the state could cut the $647,000 to Umana and $876,000 to Timilty if the schools do not meet their performance targets and evaluation standards, a combination of test scores and programming components that are evaluated through site visits and set individually for each school receiving Massachusetts' ELT funding.

According to letters, the department met with staff from both schools last fall regarding their failure to meet the state's ELT requirements, both in terms of test scores and school structure. The schools, which are reported to be in the bottom 20 percent of the state, have been receiving state funding to be ELT schools since 2006.

Citizen Schools, a Boston-based nonprofit that partners with middle schools around the country that want to implement an expanded-learning-time model (37 to date), told me it as concerned about the proposals, which were also written about in a recent Boston Globe article and editorial.

"While we understand and agree with the effort to focus on results and set high standards, we think it is premature to assume that the Timilty and Umana schools will not meet those standards," said Patrick Kirby, executive director at the Massachusetts office for Citizen Schools. "We are optimistic that the efforts by leaders at the district and school level will yield significant MCAS gains this year. We know that expanded-learning time done right can be a key lever in turning around struggling schools and closing both the achievement and opportunity gaps."

The final decision on funding the two schools will be made mid-summer, when scores are released.

Citizen Schools will be hosting an Expanded Learning Time gathering in July.

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