01:16 - Source: CNN
States add 300 hours to school year

by John Martin, CNN

(CNN) – School’s going to be a little longer for about 20,000 U.S. students next year.

On Monday, The U.S. Department of Education, the Ford Foundation and the National Center for Time and Learning (NCTL), announced the formation of the TIME Collaborative. This initiative will support more than 40 selected schools in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee that will be open an additional 300 hours during the 2013-2014 school year. For schools on a 180-day calendar, that would add more than an hour and a half of instruction per day.

The TIME Collaborative, a partnership between NCTL and the Ford Foundation, is funded by federal, state and private funds. NCTL will provide technical support for schools, while the Ford Foundation is offering $3 million in grant funds.

One of the group’s goals is to reduce achievement gaps for children who live in impoverished communities. “More learning time was simply necessary to close opportunity and achievement gaps,” David Farbman, senior researcher at NCTL, wrote on the organization’s official blog.

Ford Foundation’s president Luis Ubiñas said that research shows that student achievement is correlated with time spent in the classroom. “When kids spend more time in school they score better on standardized tests; they graduate at higher rates and are more likely to land internships or apprenticeships,” Ubiñas said during the unveiling of the program.

Students in the selected schools won’t necessarily be facing more hours studying social studies and science. “Our goal must be to turn those hours into moments of opportunity—with expanded curricula, re-imagined school programs, internships and apprenticeships, and greater exposure to areas that are increasingly on the educational cutting block—arts, music, drama and athletics,” Ubiñas said.

Sam Chaltain, a senior fellow at the Institute for a Democratic Education in America, said that at-risk learners could disengage if longer school days look similar to current school activities, even though the practice will help many others. “If it’s more of the same, if we continue to focus just on reading and math scores, I think it’s safe to say we’ll be successful. We’ll raise those scores, and we’ll probably raise student dropout rates because increasing numbers of young people feel that school is irrelevant to their needs and interests.” Chaltain told HLN’s Kyra Phillips. “If the goal is to re-imagine school itself…then I think it holds great promise,” Chaltain continued.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has long been a proponent of longer school days. “One of the most important things we can do is give those children who may not be blessed with a house full of books, who might not be blessed with a family member who has gone to college or even graduated from high school, we have to give them the time to learn more. And this initiative is a huge opportunity to do that,” Duncan said on Monday.

Don’t expect most students to be thrilled by the prospect of longer days in their school buildings. “We just want to get out of school and have a little break from all of that intense, you know, learning,” Massachusetts middle school student Hannah Kirstel told CNN affiliate WWLP.

We want to know what you think: Will a longer school day translate to better student achievement? Post your comments below.