Imagine waking up in the morning and taking a horse and buggy to the office. Or doing your work with a quill and ink by candlelight. It’s unimaginable. Yet every day we ask millions of children to make do in an education system designed for life in the 1800s.
That should be unimaginable, too.
There has been plenty of talk about school reform over the last 20 years. And there have been plenty of breakthrough experiments. But very little has taken hold across our schools, across America, that truly alters the game for our children.
The education gap remains vast and is growing. Our children are falling further behind children in other countries — children they will compete with in this global economy.
Here’s one idea that could change that: Expand and redesign the school day.
You may imagine the 8 to 3 school day, and the part-time school year, to be sacrosanct. After all, they worked in the 1950s, didn’t they? But the world today is very different from 40 or 50 years ago. And the way we design learning time should be different, too.
Already 1,000 schools across the country are showing how more and better learning time boosts achievement. A growing body of research suggests that kids who spend more time in school score better on standardized tests, are more likely to graduate, and are more likely to land internships or apprenticeships.
Why? Well, with expanded learning time there is a greater focus on core subjects, but also areas that often get short-changed, like music, arts, athletics, tutoring, and programs that connect schools to their larger communities. Activities that keep students engaged and motivated.
For teachers, it means more time to plan and learn with other teachers. For parents, an extended day is a better match with busy work lives. And for children growing up in at-risk neighborhoods, a redesigned day keeps them off the streets and out of trouble.
We know there are great after-school programs in many places. They’ve helped show the power of keeping students engaged after the schools are shut. Embracing that movement, what we need to do now is throw away our 1800s playbook and design a learning day for our 21st century global economy. We need to give our children more time to learn.
We’ve joined a diverse mix of leaders who have signed on to the idea. This coalition, announced on May 10, is called Time to Succeed, and it takes this impressive grassroots movement and gives it a national voice. It includes such thoughtful figures as former Republican Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, Newark’s Democratic Mayor Cory Booker, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond, Geoff Canada of Harlem Children’s Zone, Wendy Kopp of Teach for America, Peter Orzag of Citigroup, Eli Broad, mayors and superintendents in cities such as Chicago, New York, Boston, Houston and the District of Columbia, as well as community organizations like Citizen Schools and City Year, and many, many others.
If we want American kids to compete and thrive in today’s world, then re-imagining the school day needs to be something we each take up as a cause — in our own schools, in our own towns, and all across the country. In this election year we’ll be hearing a lot of talk about the future of the country, but expanded learning time is something concrete we can each take action on.
We urge you to look into what it means and how it can work. Just visit the Time to Succeed website to see what you can do. For our kids, it’s about time.
Luis Ubiñas is president of the Ford Foundation. Chris Gabrieli is Chair of the National Center on Time and Learning. They co-chair the Time to Succeed Coalition. This article is cross-posted on the Huffington Post.