Education reformers around the nation are keeping an eye on Massachusetts, which this school year implemented an "Expanded Learning Time" initiative (ELT), putting into practice the much-ballyhooed idea of longer school days. The Bay State's program awards an extra $1,300 per student to ten high-need schools that volunteer to extend their day by at least 25 percent. The program's a big hit--at least with participating schools. "I don't know of a single educator who wouldn't say this is a good idea," said José Salgado, the principal of Umana/Barnes Middle School in Boston. His school appears to be doing it right. Rather than simply tacking on extra hours, it uses the time to supplement academics. A Harry Potter book club is offered for students performing at grade level; stricter instruction is on tap for those youngsters who are lagging behind. Other schools have used the additional time to offer more subjects, such as drama, that wouldn't fit into a regular school day. And all the ELT programs are, at the very least, keeping kids out of trouble. As the program expands next year, however, pushback is expected, especially from suburban parents whose students are involved in multiple activities outside of school. Here's hoping that "extended learning time" isn't another structural innovation to go the way of "smaller high schools," i.e., fine in theory, bad in execution. Massachusetts seems to be on the right track, though: making school days not just longer, but more worthwhile.
"Saved by the (Later) Bell," by Lisa Prevost, Boston Globe, April 29, 2007