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Longer school day? How five states are trying to change education.

Five states are participating in a pilot project designed to recast and improve education in low-income communities by leveraging a longer school day or year in innovative ways.

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Starting next year, students in 40 public schools in five states will be spending significantly more time in school. 

Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Colorado, and Tennessee are all taking part in a pilot project in which select schools – particularly those that serve low-income communities – add at least 300 hours to the school year, whether through a lengthened school day or a longer school year. 

It’s a comprehensive effort involving state and federal governments, community organizations, teachers unions, and private groups. 

But what, exactly, will students learn? 

Most research, say education experts, shows that simply having students spend more time in school means little. 

Part of what’s key about this new project, however, is not just lengthening the school day or year, but doing it in innovative ways that could reshape the structure of the school day, and how teachers and students think about learning. 

“If you’re looking just at an extended school day, it’s hard to figure out what if any impact it has,” says Robert Stonehill, managing director at the American Institutes for Research in Washington, which has done significant work on expanded-learning programs. “But if you look at the real quality programs, that’s a different story.”

So far, Mr. Stonehill says, the backers of the new five-state initiative – called the TIME Collaborative – are emphasizing the sort of innovative solutions that do make a difference. “They’re pushing all the right buttons,” he says. 


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