Extended Hours Coming to 20 Middle Schools

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About 2,000 New York City students will have longer days next school year as part of a city initiative to improve middle school literacy, education officials said on Monday.

The extra two and a half hours of daily instruction will be required for sixth-graders at 20 low-performing schools, and will continue with them until they move to high school.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott went to the Urban Institute of Mathematics in the Bronx to announce the pilot program as part of a $6.2 million expansion of the Middle School Quality Initiative. Under the program, which started in 2011, the Department of Education has worked with 49 under-performing middle schools to provide literacy training for teachers and thousands of dollars in reading program materials.

SchoolBook reported on the progress -- and challenges -- in this report last week.

On Monday, the D.O.E. announced that an additional 40 schools will take part in the initiative, with 20 of them receiving resources for extended hours.

“The 40 school expansion will improve the outcomes of tens of thousands of our New York City students,” said Walcott. “We’re closing the achievement gap.”

City officials identified middle schools as a time when many students are likely to fall off track and need the most comprehensive support. New York City’s eighth graders haven’t made significant reading progress since 2002, according to state and national exams, and about three-fourths of seventh and eighth graders don’t read at a proficient level.

With longer days, sixth-graders at the 20 schools, which have not yet been selected, will receive an hour of small-group literacy training followed by project-based activities. The extra instruction will be modeled after Harvard EdLabs strategies and led by trained instructors, teachers and community educators.

“We're building on the growing evidence that more learning time, if well used, leads to greater academic achievement, better school attendance and perhaps, actually most importantly, enthusiastic learners,” said Lucy Friedman, president of The After-School Corporation, a partner in the city’s initiative.

At the end of the three-year program, officials said they will compare participating schools to those of similar makeup to gauge effectiveness. If they’re successful, City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn said she would like to find the money to extend the school day in all New York City schools.

“Will it cost more money to take it city-wide?” she said. “Of course it will, but when we know that it works and we know the best way it works, then we’re just going to have to make it a priority and make it happen.”

The alternatives – high school drop outs and remedial courses – cost more in the end, Quinn said.

Critics of extended school days have argued that students need more time outside the classroom to engage in sports and social activities. Yet supporters of more learning time, like Nitzan Pelman, said the extra hours will help level the playing field for the city’s low-income and most struggling students.

“We’ve seen incredible data results from it. We’ve seen test scores go up, confidence improves,” said Pelman, the executive director of Citizen Schools, which partners with middle schools to expand the learning day.

City officials said they hope to also expand the number of school participating in the middle school initiative more generally, if reading scores continue to improve. Last year, between February and June of 2012, students who severely struggled with reading at the participating 49 schools showed 1.5 grade levels of progress, according to the D.O.E.