WASHINGTON (AP) — Open your notebooks and sharpen your pencils. School for thousands of public school students is about to get quite a bit longer.
Five states announced Monday that they will add at least 300 hours of learning time to the calendar in some schools starting in 2013. Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee will take part in the initiative, which is intended to boost student achievement and make U.S. schools more competitive on a global level.
The three-year pilot program will affect almost 20,000 students in 40 schools, with long-term hopes of expanding the program to include additional schools — especially those that serve low-income communities. Schools, working in concert with districts, parents and teachers, will decide whether to make the school day longer, add more days to the school year or both.
All told, education officials expect to provide nearly 6 million more student learning hours next year.
“I’m convinced the kind of results we’ll see over the next couple of years I think will compel the country to act in a very different way,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
A mix of federal, state and district funds will cover the costs of expanded learning time, with the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning also chipping in resources. In Massachusetts, the program builds on the state’s existing expanded-learning program. In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy is hailing it as a natural outgrowth of an education reform law the state passed in May that included about $100 million in new funding, much of it to help the neediest schools.
Spending more time in the classroom, officials said, will give students access to a more well-rounded curriculum that includes arts and music, individualized help for students who fall behind and opportunities to reinforce critical math and science skills.
“That extra time with their teachers or within a structured setting means all the world,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. “It means it allows them to continue the momentum they had the day before. It means they don’t slip back over the summer. It allows them to really deliver.”
The project comes as educators across the U.S. struggle to identify the best ways to strengthen a public education system that many fear has fallen behind other nations. Student testing, teacher evaluations, charter schools and voucher programs join longer school days on the list of reforms that have been put forward with varying degrees of success.