Three Baltimore schools have extended their school day by three hours, using a national program that has boosted achievement in other urban districts and has been hailed as a way to make American students competitive in the 21st century.
Hilton Elementary, George Washington Elementary and Harlem Park Elementary/Middle will join a handful of schools in New York and New Orleans implementing the ExpandED Schools program, a public-private initiative of The After-School Corp. that provides schools with additional instructional time via partnerships with community organizations.
The three-year initiative in Baltimore will cost $6.3 million, with 15 percent of the costs shouldered by the city school system. The program began this fall with a smaller population of students in each of the three city schools; all students will be phased in over the next three years. Three hours are added to the end of the school day.
Khaleel Desaque, principal at Hilton Elementary, said the program will give his students a competitive advantage. The school will work with the Child First Authority to execute its program.
"There are so many time constraints on the instructional day, and there's so much currently that has been taught in such a short amount of time," Desaque said.
While the concept of a longer day has been supported nationally, financial barriers and union contract restraints have been long-standing deterrents for districts to add instructional time, or enough hours to make a difference.
U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called for districts to explore avenues for more learning time, citing the gap between American students and their international counterparts. For example, he said, American students spend about a month less time in school than students in South Korea.
"The current school calendar made sense in the 19th century," Duncan said in an endorsement of the ExpandED program. "But today it puts our country at a competitive disadvantage."
Susan Brenna, director of communications for the New York-based TASC, said that the organization seeks to break down the barriers that schools face by providing a sustainable model that allows for a balance of remediation, enrichment and extracurricular activities.
But the program also encourages schools to be self-sufficient. The three city schools were chosen based on an application process that required them to outline their vision for a significantly longer school day, and the ability to secure a partner to meet financial and staffing demands.
The ExpandED model, Brenna said, has a track record of offering 35 percent more instruction time a year, with additional costs less than 10 percent.
"There are obvious problems when schools try to do this alone," Brenna said. "But we don't think adding a half-hour or a few more minutes makes much difference, and it also doesn't allow schools to do anything more different. To make this program work, you have to have existing youth development resources."
Brenna said that in New York, the program has increased attendance by nearly 4 percentage points — which translates into seven more days of school per year — among students who attended a longer school day compared to those who didn't.
And on the 2011 New York state tests, students who participated in the program's pilot schools showed increases in math proficiency over three years, with an average increase of 5.9 percentage points compared to the citywide average of 3.3 points. In English Language Arts, the schools gained 2.2 percentage points compared to 1.5 points citywide.
"Expanding learning time can accelerate student achievement, particularly in high-poverty schools where students don't always have as much outside support or resources," said Duncan.
The program came to Baltimore, Brenna said, after city school officials expressed an interest.
The city school system recently implemented Saturday School programs in more than 60 schools around the city as a way to help boost declining test scores in math. That 10-week measure alone costs the district $3 million, as well as chunks of money from the schools' individual budgets.
Hilton has experience with extending learning time, having run a Saturday School program in past years.
Though Desaque took his post this year, he said he believes that the program contributed to the school's overall high academic achievement. The school was one of only 15 in the city that met federally mandated achievement targets, known as adequate yearly progress, on the Maryland School Assessments last school year.
Desaque said that he hopes the program will continue the trend, while also improving his students' educational experience.
"We would like to see higher student achievement by all means on standardized testing, but we also want to see more well-rounded children, with the eventual goal for them to really encompass the world," he said.
Other large, urban districts have also moved to extend learning time. Recently, Chicago Public Schools announced that its 675 elementary and high schools will move to a 71/2 -hour day. Its high schools will add 36 minutes of instruction by dropping homeroom.