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Opinion: A Path To Expanding Learning Time

Scot Lehigh's March 7, 2014 column in the Boston Globe entitled "Want a longer school day? Pay up" states that there are currently three basic longer-day models: the union model (teachers paid union rates for longer day), the hybrid model (teachers paid stipends for longer day), and the charter school model (more hours by design at similar cost).

There is actually a fourth model, a partnership-based model, that makes expanded learning time affordable and offers excellent return on investment. This approach has been part of some Massachusetts schools for a number of years. It utilizes non-profit partners who hire highly qualified teachers and professionals to deliver a high-quality program that is rich with rigorous academics and at the same time is playful, fun, and enriching for students. It delivers those services at a lower cost to schools and often with a higher return on investment.

The partner model can offer that return on investment because it focuses expanded learning time - whether after school or summer -- on the students who stand to benefit the most. This includes students who are struggling academically and socially and who have no options in their community, or whose families can't afford tutors or high quality academic/enrichment programs. Further, the model can target specific groups of students within a low-performing school who most need that added time to build academic skills. It does not require all students to be present and it does not add learning time for students who are succeeding or already benefitting from other after school activities, tutoring, or enrichments typically available to peers with more resources.

Return on investment also comes from expanding learning time when it is needed most and can have the greatest impact on student achievement. The summer, in particular, is a critical time for learning and exploration in a child's life. Summer experiences strengthen scholars' academic and 21st century skills, introduce them to STEM, creative arts, and fitness, and support the development of positive social/emotional skills. Yet, the vast majority of students in low-income communities continue to lack such opportunities and each year fall further behind. The most effective partnerships leverage the strengths of schools and the unique capacities of partners to deliver engaging learning experiences for scholars.

Lastly, the partner model shares responsibility for cost by leveraging school funds with philanthropic support. There are models at work throughout the Commonwealth that strategically align efforts between schools and community organizations to ensure that the students who are below grade level, who are at risk of engaging in unhealthy or dangerous behaviors, or who have nowhere else to go are able to participate in high-quality learning opportunities after school and in the summer. Here in Boston, the work of the Opportunity Agenda is a great example of how the smart and strategic deployment of philanthropic support in high-need schools is helping to narrow opportunity and achievement gaps in our schools.

When we think about expanded learning time, let's think beyond the one-size-fits-all model and think creatively about how all of us can leverage our resources and take shared responsibility for student success. Let's break down traditional boundaries of when and where learning occurs. And let's focus our limited resources where they can achieve the greatest return on investment.

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Sue Bonaiuto, Ed.D.
Executive Director for MA