By Chris Gabrieli
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s new budget includes an important proposal that, if passed, will put New York at the forefront of an exciting educational movement to rethink the school calendar.
The proposal creates a $20 million grant program that will provide funding to select schools that significantly expand the school day, school year or both, increasing the amount of learning time by at least 25 percent. More time does not mean, though, that participating schools will just do more of the same. On the contrary, they will implement proven strategies that they don’t have time for within the constraints of a traditional school calendar.
For starters, schools will be able to provide a richer, more rigorous curriculum. Over the last decade, public schools have prioritized the tested subjects – reading and math – at the expense of other critical subjects, like science, history, civics, art, music and physical education. More time in school means restoring these subjects in a well-rounded curriculum.
With expanded time, teachers can regularly analyze student data to identify specific areas where individual students are struggling, and then provide more-personalized instruction. Recognizing that children learn in different ways and at different paces, this individualized approach helps teachers target support to children who need it.
More time means more opportunities for teachers to collaborate on instructional practice and hone their skills in the classroom. Surveys show that teachers want more time both in the classroom and with their peers. Finally, expanded time means that schools can offer enrichment programs, from field trips and hands-on learning to elective courses taught by community experts, which make school more engaging.
Schools can deploy these strategies piecemeal without expanded time, but more time allows schools to implement all of them, and in a thoughtful, coherent way. When combined with a culture of high expectations, the effective use of student data and a commitment to teachers’ collaboration and development, expanded learning time produces impressive improvements in teaching and learning. Particularly for students in high-poverty schools, expanded time provides educational opportunities that they would otherwise forgo.
In the decades since I was a kid growing up in Buffalo, the city has lost more than half of its good-paying manufacturing jobs. Most of today’s middle-class jobs, in sectors like health care and higher education, require a new set of knowledge areas and skills. The traditional school calendar simply doesn’t give schools enough time to teach these skills and fully prepare all students for success in college or careers. The governor’s proposal would give schools and students the time they need to succeed.
Chris Gabrieli, a Buffalo native, is co-founder and chairman of the National Center on Time & Learning in Boston, Mass.