Our opinion: Expanding school time

Tuesday December 4, 2012

Beginning next September, Massa chusetts will be one of five states participating in a federal pilot program to extend the school day. The shift toward longer school days is gaining momentum and ideally Berkshire County public schools will participate in numbers in this overdue effort.

The program, titled the Time for Innovation Matters in Educational Collaborative, was officially announced Monday by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. It is designed to improve student achievement and help students increase their global competitiveness in preparation for their arrival in a global job market. State and federal funding will be provided participating schools and the National Center on Time & Learning will provide resources along with technical assistance.

The school day, like the school year, is not long enough to meet the demands of contemporary students. A longer day will, among other benefits, provide time for programs like arts and music, which are too quickly dumped because of time or monetary constraints. There will be more time to provide help to students who are struggling with course work, particularly related to the all-consuming MCAS examinations. The school year, built along an agrarian calendar so students could work the fields in the summer, has long been rendered irrelevant by the modern days of education and society.

Unlike many states, Massachusetts laid the groundwork for the longer school day in 2006 with the Massachusetts 2020 pilot program. An updated education reform law in 2010 enabled schools to experiment with longer school days, flexible curriculums and other features adopted by the charter schools that are putting the heat on public schools. The communities of Lawrence and Fall River applied for the pilot program and more than 5,000 students will participate.

A longer school day is not the answer to every challenge facing schools but it can be an important part of the solution. While teachers unions have been skeptical if not resistant, the union in Boston has played an active role in making the experiment work in some of the city’s schools. The logistical difficulties that arise can be resolved and are not an excuse for inaction. A longer school day will benefit teachers and students, and that includes those in the Berkshires.


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