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Updated Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 05:15 PM

5 states to test 300 more hours for school year

By Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Five states will experiment with giving pupils additional instruction and other support by adding 300 hours a year of teaching time to the school year, officials announced Monday.

The program, starting next year in some schools in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee, is designed to increase student achievement and make U.S. education more competitive globally, a goal of the Obama administration.

The three-year pilot program will affect almost 20,000 students in 40 schools over the next three years, with the hope of expanding to more schools down the road. Educators and parents will decide whether to lengthen the school day or add days to the school calendar, or both.

"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," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday.

Most schools have varying hours, but in general, classes in most states run from around 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., depending on grade.

All told, education officials expect the program to provide nearly 6 million more student learning hours next year.

A mix of federal, state and district funds will cover the costs, with the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, 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 law the state passed in May that included about $100 million in new funding, much of it to help the neediest schools.

The effort comes after more than 1,000 schools have added hours, arguing that keeping students on campus for more hours leads to improvement, even if the extra time goes to extracurricular activities.

Adding school time to primary subjects, such as math and reading, can lead to higher scores, supporters say, and adding extracurricular subjects, such as music or art, can give children exposure to subjects they may not normally get.

Spending more time in the classroom, officials said, will give access to 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 Obama administration has advocated more classroom time. In 2009, Duncan told lawmakers that U.S. students were at a disadvantage compared with India and China.

That same year, he suggested schools should be open six or seven days a week and should run 11 or 12 months out of the year.

But not everyone agrees that simply adding time benefits students.

The National School Boards Association's Center for Public Education last year questioned whether U.S. students spend less time in classrooms than those overseas. Pupils in countries where students perform well on tests, such as South Korea, Finland and Japan, spend less time in school than most U.S. students, the group said.

At Stober Elementary in Lakewood, Colo., teachers and principals nervously embraced the idea.

"It's hard to get through all the curriculum in the time we have," said fourth-grade teacher Jeanette Martinez, although she wondered how it would affect planning time and other teacher duties. "The extra hour is cool, but where are we going to get everything else done?"


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