School time

Colorado is one of five states participating in a three-year pilot program to add class time to the school year in selected districts. It is an effort that should be tracked carefully by anyone interested in bettering education, which should mean everyone.

Along with Colorado, Tennessee, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts will begin the program with the 2013 school year. About 20,000 students will take part, 5,000 of them in schools in Adams and Jefferson counties, Denver and Boulder.

The effort is being paid for with a mix of federal, state and district money along with contributions from the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning. In Massachusetts and Connecticut, existing reforms and programs are also included.

The basic idea, however, is simple and consistent: Students should do better – learn more – if they are in school more.

Long a priority for Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the thinking is that more class time will allow for a more well-rounded curriculum, including art and music. It should also afford teachers more time to work with struggling students’ or to bolster students understanding of difficult or technical subjects.

The Associated Press cites a report by a Harvard economist that says the two best predictors of educational success are tutoring and at least 300 hours per year extra class time. The schools in this program have agreed to that number but will decide together with districts, parents and teachers whether to use them as longer days, additional calendar days or a combination of the two.

The combination approach could offer the most benefit by allowing for more time for personalized instruction and extra-curricular activities. At the same time, though, this might be a good time to begin moving away from an antiquated calendar that forces students to spend the first weeks of every school year relearning what they forgot during summer.

Changing school calendars will not be easy. The National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education disputes the value of increasing classroom time (although the examples it cites in opposition do not hold up well). Teachers’ unions can be expected to weigh in, as well.

But this is the value of this pilot project. If the results show the gains are significant, objections will be easier to overcome, with reason and resources. People are always more willing to pay for things that work.

In this rapidly changing world, the performance of our schools must continually improve. This program seems a good way to test one relatively easy way to do that.

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