Article about M.L. King in the New York Times
By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO
Published: March 26, 2007
FALL RIVER, Mass. — States and school districts nationwide are moving to lengthen the day at struggling schools, spurred by grim test results suggesting that more than 10,000 schools are likely to be declared failing under federal law next year.
In Massachusetts, in the forefront of the movement, Gov. Deval L. Patrick is allocating $6.5 million this year for longer days and can barely keep pace with demand: 84 schools have expressed interest.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York has proposed an extended day as one of five options for his state’s troubled schools, part of a $7 billion increase in spending on education over the next four years — apart from the 37 minutes of extra tutoring that children in some city schools already receive four times a week.
And Gov. M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut is proposing to lengthen the day at persistently failing schools as part of a push to raise state spending on education by $1 billion.
“In 15 years, I’d be very surprised if the old school calendar still dominates in urban settings,” said Mark Roosevelt, superintendent of schools in Pittsburgh, which has added 45 minutes a day at eight of its lowest-performing schools and 10 more days to their academic year.
But the movement, which has expanded the day in some schools by as little as 30 minutes or as much as two hours, has many critics: among administrators, who worry about the cost; among teachers, whose unions say they work hard enough as it is, and have sought more pay and renegotiation of contracts; and among parents, who say their children spend enough time in school already.
Still others question the equity of moving toward a system where students at low-performing, often urban, schools get more teaching than students at other schools.
And of all the steps school districts take to try to improve student achievement, lengthening the day is generally the costliest — an extra $1,300 a student annually here in Massachusetts — and difficult to sustain.
The idea of a longer day was first promoted in charter schools — public schools that are tax-supported but independently run. But the surge of interest has been spurred largely by the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires annual testing of students, with increasingly dire consequences for schools that fall short each year, including possible closing.
Pressed by the demands of the law, school officials who support longer days say that much of the regular day must concentrate on test preparation. With extra hours, they say, they can devote more time to test readiness, if needed, and teach subjects that have increasingly been dropped from the curriculum, like history, art, drama.
“Whether it’s No Child Left Behind or local standards, when you start realizing that we’re really having a hard time raising kids to standards, you see you need more time,” said Christopher Gabrieli of Massachusetts 2020, a nonprofit education advocacy group that supports a longer school day. “As people are starting to really sweat, they’ve increasingly started to think really hard about ‘are we giving them enough time?’ ”
Still, some educators question whether keeping children in school longer will improve their performance. A recent report by the Education Sector, a centrist nonprofit research group, found that unless the time students are engaged in active learning — mastering academic subjects — is increased, adding hours alone may not do much.
Money also has proved a big obstacle. Murfreesboro, Tenn., experimented with a longer day, but abandoned the plan when the financing ran out, said An-Me Chung, a program officer at the C. S. Mott Foundation, which does education research. Typically, she said, lengthening the school day can add about 30 percent to a state’s per-pupil spending on education.
Given that expense, New Mexico is acting surgically. The state is spending $2.3 million to extend the day for about 2,100 children in four districts who failed state achievement tests. The money, $1,000 a student, goes for an extra hour of school a day for those children, time they spend on tutorials tailored to their weaknesses in math or reading.
Karen Kay Harvey, an assistant secretary of education for New Mexico, said that the state could not afford to do more. Adding the equivalent of one extra day of school a year for all students could run from $3 million to $5 million, she said.
Still, in many districts across the country, the trend has taken hold. In Miami, 39 schools that are farthest behind have added an extra hour to the school day, as well as five days to the school year. In California, the small West Fresno district, with some of the lowest test scores in Fresno County, added an hour more of school a day for students in the fourth to eighth grades.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the education committee, supports the idea of longer school days and is proposing $50 million a year, to rise to $150 million by 2012, under No Child Left Behind to train a corps of 40,000 teachers to help schools redesign academic content for those extra hours.
Though the trend could accentuate the differences between poor and middle-class students, with low-income students forced to spend longer hours behind their desks, Ms. Chung noted that middle-class children “basically have their own extended day that their parents have put together for them.” The virtue of the extended day, educators say, is that it forces children who might not otherwise attend voluntary after-school programs to spend time on studies.
In Massachusetts, schools in that state’s pilot program, teachers have received a 30 percent raise for their extra work. But pay is not the only issue for them.
In Lowell, Mass., for example, teachers balked at the district’s original plan to participate, saying they were too tired at the end of the day for extra work and had their own obligations at home.
Lowell parents also opposed the plan, concerned that longer days would be too taxing for children, especially the younger ones. Parents also feared their children would have to walk home in the dark and said that a longer day would cut into family time, said Karla Brooks Baehr, the school superintendent.
The district shelved the plan and developed an alternative proposal that gives students and teachers more freedom to choose the days they will stay late, and offers a range of activities along with core academics, including tutorials and swimming.
The Massachusetts schools that were awarded the state grants have grappled with ensuring that the extra time helps raise achievement. At many, officials say the program has been a success.
At Matthew J. Kuss Middle School here in Fall River, the time has bolstered instruction in reading, math and science as well as opening the way for electives in art and drama, forensics, karate and cooking — “the fun things for kids,” said Nancy Mullen, the principal — that had been pared away as the school’s standing fell.
So far, attendance is up and lateness is down, two areas that helped fuel the state takeover two years ago of Kuss, Massachusetts’s first school designated as chronically failing. “The students are more engaged in school,” Ms. Mullen said.
At the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School in Cambridge, Mass., where all students learn Mandarin, educators doubled the time spent teaching reading in the elementary grades to three hours a day. They used a method called Literacy Collaborative, which weaves lessons in reading and writing into other subjects, like social studies.
One recent morning, Joan Kerwin, a literacy coach, spent a half-hour with a fourth-grade class discussing a composition by one of the students, Kibir Uddin, who wrote about the thrill of receiving an honors certificate, describing the special paper it came on.
“ ‘The bumps looked like gems and rubies,’ ” Ms. Kerwin read from the essay. “He took that emotion,” she explained to the class, “and put it into exact language.”
It was the kind of lesson, teachers said, that would have been impossible with a shorter day.
At Kuss, students who were having trouble learning fractions built a scale model of a house from architectural drawings. Stephanie Baker, who teaches cooking, has posters around her room with math problems drawn from previous years’ state exams that she incorporates into her classes.
“I know I’m working longer hours,” said Ms. Baker, who wore a white toque, as the aroma of teacakes students had baked wafted from her room. “But this has been the most rewarding year I’ve had in 29 years of teaching.”
Many parents in Fall River said they were pleased by the commitment a longer schedule signaled, reasoning that more hours meant more chances for their children to succeed.
Some parents in this working-class community, like John Chaves, father of a seventh-grader, Mindy, said they supported more time at school simply because so few are home earlier to welcome their children. “We’re never home at the time that they’re home, so at least we know where our kids are,” Mr. Chaves said.
Mindy is studying guitar and forensics after school. “Today,” her father said, “she came home saying that men have a bigger forehead than women. She never used to do that.
“I ask, ‘Where are you learning this stuff?’ ” Mr. Chaves continued.
“ ‘Forensic class,’ she tells me. ‘I love it.’ ”