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Longer School Days to Close the Achievement Gap

Students in five states will soon spend at least 300 extra hours in the classroom for the next three years or more, thanks to an initiative that aims to increase student achievement across socioeconomic lines by providing more in-school educational opportunities, announced last December.

The TIME (Time for Innovative Matters in Education) Collaborative is a pilot study that will affect select schools in 11 districts with high percentages of students who receive free or reduced-price lunch across Connecticut, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee, reaching nearly 20,000 students as early as September 2013. It is a partnership between the Ford Foundation, a nonprofit with a social justice mission, and the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL), a national organization dedicated to expanding learning time to increase achievement.

These states will not be the first: more than 1,000 schools nationwide serving over half a million students operate on an extended schedule of days lasting at least seven hours instead of the typical six-and- a-half—a school increase of 53 percent since 2009, according to a study released in December by the time and learning center. A 2011 NCTL report found that extended learning schools serve a large percentage of low-income students, and they consistently demonstrate higher proficiency rates on state standards compared to district averages.

The TIME collaborative seeks to close the gap in educational opportunities and resources between the most disadvantaged students, who often live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, and more socioeconomically advantaged ones, according to Jeannie Oakes, director of the Ford Foundation’s education program. “We know that the opportunity gap is huge, and contains lots of things,” Oakes says. “But we decided that by increasing the number of hours that young people have in school, and using those hours to try to provide for them the wide range of experiences and opportunities and supports that more advantaged kids have, would be a very strategic way to attack this inequity in our American school system.”

More advantaged students often have greater opportunities for tutoring, music lessons, and other extracurricular activities outside of the school day, Oakes says, well as chances to interact with adults who can expose them to learning new ideas. Educators know these opportunities are critical, but are impossible to provide during the regular school day, she adds.

The pilot schools will operate primarily through a mix of federal, state, and local funds. The collaborative is made possible in part due to new flexibilities through No Child Left Behind waivers, made available by the Obama administration. The Ford Foundation is set to give $3 million per year for three years to NCTL to provide technical assistance and a coordinator each state, as well as to local partners.