Reinventing the School Day

The Newton Public Schools operate on a schedule that evolved based on the needs of an agrarian society and that has not been significantly updated in centuries, let alone to accommodate recent changes in work patterns and to take advantage of modern technology. By re-examining our assumptions about when school should be in session and what educational activities can take place outside of the formal school day, we can make better use of education resources and help all of our students to succeed.

Summary of Proposed Solution

Newton should work with other communities to create a coalition to assess best practices in Expanded Learning Time (ELT) in Massachusetts and to produce a plan to take advantage of ELT in Newton.

Discussion and Implementation Plan

“Classroom teachers are consistently asked to do more in the same or less time. In fact, the school day is still markedly shorter than the work day, leaving many students unsupervised and unengaged in the afternoons. I will fund extended day initiatives, including additional compensation to teachers and other professionals, to enable more learning time for our kids.”

– Governor Deval Patrick

“How can children learn what they need to succeed in the global information age when schools still operate on schedules designed for the industrial age?”

– Senator Edward M. Kennedy

As evidenced by these quotes, there is a serious endeavor underway in Massachusetts to reinvent the school day. Chris Gabrieli is a prime mover in this effort and has written a book with Warren Goldstein: Time to Learn, which argues the case for reinvention. See also: which describes the Gabrieli Massachusetts 2020 initiative designed to support expanded learning time (ELT) and after-school programs.

The organization of the school day, originally designed to serve the needs of an agrarian society, is finally drawing attention as an opportunity not only to modernize our approach but also to recognize that the safety net, which used to be provided by a parent at home at the end of the school day, has fallen away so that the time between the end of school and parents’ return from work has now become a time where school-based influence and management is vital.

We have an opportunity to ensure that each school day is balanced with enough time to cover the curriculum and the right mix of work and play and social interaction. The issue of ELT and best managing our school assets in that context is a vital one. The corollary to this is that we also have an opportunity to ensure that after-school programs throughout the city integrate well with this new approach.

Newton has the opportunity to work with other interested Massachusetts communities to study the school day and to research best practices in ELT. In addition to forming this coalition to conduct research and share information, we should form a local task force to pursue implementation of ELT measures in Newton. This ELT task force should be charged with producing a plan to assess Newton’s ELT options, including a cost-benefit analysis of each of the proposed measures to expand learning time.

We should also form an After-School Committee, comprised of parents, students, community representatives, school representatives and aftercare providers to evaluate the varied after-school programs in Newton with the goal of offering high quality after-school educational experiences to our all our students. This committee would be charged with providing the School Committee an annual report assessing each school’s aftercare offerings.

Both the ELT Task Force and After-School Committee should be in place by January 1, 2012.