BOSTON (AP)- More than 5,000 students in two Massachusetts public school districts will take part in a three-year pilot program that aims to boost student achievement by lengthening the school day, education officials announced Monday.
Schools in the cities of Fall River and Lawrence will add 300 hours to their school year starting in 2013 as part of the three-year pilot program.
The program includes about 19,500 students in five states (an estimated 5,066 in Massachusetts) and is funded with federal, state and district money. The Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning are also contributing resources.
It is hoped the initiative will improve the global competitiveness of U.S. students by expanding and better using the school day.
"I'm going to argue it's not that American schools have failed, it's that the expectations for the jobs in America have gone up," said Dr. Hardin Coleman, Dean of the School of Education at Boston University. "There's a lag time before e can catch up to their expectations, and we are."
Massachusetts already has 65 schools with expanded learning time programs, including 19 state-funded schools with about 10,700 students. The state was early adopter of expanded learning, starting its programs in 2006. The programs were funded this year with $14.1 million in grants.
The extended-day programs have different emphases in different places. The existing state-funded programs, for instance, emphasize core subjects, including math, literacy and science.
The focuses of the pilot program announced Monday include individual help for struggling students, using data and technology in instruction and more opportunities in the arts and music.
Expanded learning programs are often located in higher poverty areas, where children face more problems that interfere with learning, such as hunger and less parental involvement. All of the 19 state-funded schools are located in cities, from Greenfield to Boston.
"Now we're recognizing the jobs Americans need, that are available, demand a higher level of content acquisition than we had before," said Coleman. "So even if one is going to go into manufacturing machine work they need a level of math that was previously associated with going to college that we didn't expect out of our lower-performing students."
The programs are costly, often face parental skepticism and haven't worked everywhere. For instance, Southbridge and Framingham dropped extended day programs.
But national education officials say the programs have proven an effective and a badly-needed makeover of the traditional school day. Heather Johnson, spokeswoman for state Executive Office of Education, said the pilot program's inclusion of Massachusetts cities is an affirmation of the work that's been done in state.
"We see it as good news," Johnson said.
Local teachers unions say they're on board with plan as long as teachers are compensated for the extra work.
"The MTA and American Federation of Teachers have supported the concept of expanded learning time in our schools," said Paul Toner, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. "We do believe the teachers should be involved in the decision-making of how that time is used. We feel if they're asked to work extra time they should be adequately compensated or come up with flexible schedules."
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