Moving Forward in the Empire State

An article from Capital New York today outlined some of the challenges in moving the Expanded Learning Time Grant Program forward in the state. Of course, New York leaders are trying to accelerate education improvements across the board—with the ELT initiative as a component of a much larger agenda—and bumps in the road are inevitable. But it’s important that the challenges around the grant program not obscure the more important story, which is that New York – thanks in large part to the leadership of Governor Cuomo and Education Commissioner John King – has been at the forefront of the movement to redesign schools to better meet the needs of students through expanding learning time.  This movement is without question one of the most promising educational strategies available to schools today as they embark upon higher standards, improving teacher quality, and broadening educational opportunities for students.  It is still early, but the districts of Rochester and Syracuse are seeing promising results and teachers are particularly positive about the additional time they have to collaborate with-- and learn from--their peers in schools that have implemented expanded learning time.
It is exciting that in New York State, six of nine school districts that won the award are choosing to move forward with planning for redesigned and expanded school days with the state grant. (Sixteen additional districts had applied and hoped to participate.) These winning districts and schools are working with their school communities, including teachers, parents, and community organizations, to determine how best to create a new schedule and school design to meet the needs of their children. From our work over the past ten years, we know that every school and district needs to determine the schedule that best fits the needs of their students. The New York State Department of Education is giving the schools that decide to move forward the opportunity to develop high-quality plans for expanded learning by granting them this planning year and two years of implementation support. 
Changing the standard 6.5 hour 180 day school schedule – something that is so ingrained in our society and culture – is hard work. Anyone, whether it be a parent, teacher, superintendent, or elected official, who stands up and says that our current system is broken and that students, particularly students in high-poverty communities, need more time in school in order to close achievement and opportunity gaps deserves a lot of credit. We cannot let small bumps in the road get in the way of the bigger picture, which is that through the leadership of Governor Cuomo and Commissioner King and the commitment of many superintendents, teachers, parents and union leaders across the state, New York is poised to offer many more students high-quality educational opportunities in the years to come.