Nan Austin

On Campus: Longer school days, better connections gaining ground

Teacher Chandy Thai-Tang leads her third-graders in a discussion at Robertson Road Elementary in Modesto, Ca., on Aug. 8, 2013, the day state test scores were announced showing the school, one of the lowest performers in the state two years before, had the strongest growth in the Modesto City Schools district following a shift to a longer school day.
Teacher Chandy Thai-Tang leads her third-graders in a discussion at Robertson Road Elementary in Modesto, Ca., on Aug. 8, 2013, the day state test scores were announced showing the school, one of the lowest performers in the state two years before, had the strongest growth in the Modesto City Schools district following a shift to a longer school day. The Modesto Bee

As Modesto City Schools considers moving high school start times later at a yawn-inducing pace, across the nation other affronts to the 19th century school day are moving forward.

The National Center on Time & Learning this month released an updated report on schools with longer school days. Its newest numbers show 1.2 million kids in 2,009 schools worked through a longer school day in 2014 – both numbers roughly double what its survey found in 2012.

Most of those are in urban areas, and range from an extra hour of reading and writing time to full day sessions.

Modesto’s Robertson Road Elementary is one of the schools that took advantage of extra funding given low-performing schools to stretch its school day. Teachers had to choose to teach there, agreeing to stay for the longer day for extra pay. In 2013, the last year of testing, the school posted the strongest improvements in the 34-school district.

California is not at the forefront of the long-day movement, but it did expand school options to include a four-day school week if kids still got the minimum number of hours. The state requires 840 hours a year in grades 1-3, rising to 1,080 hours a year in high school.

The report offers policy recommendations for the federal government, including making expanded learning time a part of its teacher training funding, and for states, including that they collect data on what districts are doing. At all levels it recommends focusing on high-poverty schools.

“While all students can benefit from additional learning time, high-poverty students benefit the most,” the report states.

For district leaders, the report suggests asking teachers to take a lead role in redesigning school days. Cost-effective models to build in more time could include staggering teacher schedules, adding online learning time or partnering with colleges or community organizations to provide after school support.


After the first month of the long state testing window, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced that 360,000 out of California’s 6.2 million students had started the Common Core-aligned assessments. Kids in third through eighth grades, and specific high school courses, will spend 7-8 hours, spread over multiple days, in testing.

The testing involved 458 school districts and charters out of the state’s 1,028 school districts and 1,125 charter schools. Doing the math, that’s 21 percent of districts, but only 8 percent of students. That suggests mostly small districts have launched into the state’s brave new world of computer-adaptive testing, or the temporary alternative of a paper test.

The early start is a disadvantage to students, who have weeks less to learn the material, but may be necessary because of a lack of computers or bandwidth for lots of students to take the test simultaneously.

In a report on school computing capacity released Friday, April 17, the state Department of Education says 69 percent of schools in the field test for Smarter Balanced online tests last spring were able to complete the tests “with minimal disruption.” Of the nearly 1 in 3 schools that had issues, 72 percent blamed network capacity for their glitches.

The report, “Connecting California’s Children 2015,” says Internet use is increasing exponentially for schools. Use at the Orange County Department of Education, for example, doubled between December 2013 and 2014 and at peak use nearly maxes out their system capacity.

“These periods of maximum usage can paralyze a network and hinder the very access educators and students now depend upon,” the report notes in its executive summary, addressing what it calls “last mile infrastructure” – that in-district capacity for classroom computers.

Ceres Unified, which will equip all its students with computers starting this fall, is spending much of this school year getting its network ready to handle the load. Superintendent Scott Siegel trained school board members to “45” their screens, a strategy the district used this year to minimize screen distraction between tasks without closing the connection.

A classroom full of computers signing on all at once could slow down Internet speed across the entire district, Siegel told board members. The district has a $4 million upgrade in the works, 90 percent underwritten by the federal e-rate program.

The Federal Communications Commission provides that subsidy through a $3.9 billion program indexed to inflation. Another program through the California Public Utilities Commission provides schools with a 50 percent discount off telecommunications services after the e-rate discount.

Turlock Unified and Modesto City Schools are among many other local districts upgrading their broadband capacity.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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