This morning’s New York Times article by national education reporter Mitoko Rich, highlights the momentum building across the country for expanding learning time. Here at TSC it has been especially exciting to see a growing group from all backgrounds, from teachers unions to business leaders, from civil rights leaders to academics, from charter leaders to community organizers, from practitioners to parents, advocate for expanding learning time. We have heard from people all over the US who recognize the shortcomings of a traditional 180-day school year and that low-income children in particular, need additional time both for academics as schools face increasing pressure to improve student test scores as well as time for enrichment classes, such as music, arts, physical education.
Take for example Balsz Elementary School District #31 on Phoenix, AZ, led by superintendent and TSC signatory, Jeff Smith, featured in the article. While the typical public school calendar is 180 days, the Balsz district, where 90 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, is in session for 200 days, having added about a month to the academic year. What makes Balsz a true success story is that in 2008, when Dr. Smith took over the district, two of the five schools in the district had been rated underperforming for several years running and the district was at risk of being taken over by the state. But since the district transitioned to the longer calendar, the proportion of students passing state reading tests has gone to 65 percent from 51 percent, and math scores are also improving.
Jeannie Oakes, director of educational opportunity and scholarship programs at the Ford Foundation and a TSC signatory says it well, “better is as important as the more.” We recognize that more and better learning time is critical, particularly for the children in our nation’s high-poverty communities to succeed in school and beyond. Today’s story underscores the momentum we are seeing for ELT as a leading strategy that schools can leverage as they strive to prepare their students for success in today’s world.