The U.S. is still providing education as if we lived in an agrarian economy and we needed the children home to work the fields, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said in his State of the State address as he proposed to enact a state grant program that would give school districts incentives to expand the school day or year.
Thanks to efforts by the Governor, mayors, school district leaders and strong nonprofit youth-serving organizations, New York State has the best chance we may see in generations to give disadvantaged students the learning time and opportunities they need to meet the escalating demands of life in a knowledge economy.
This is our chance to get expanded learning right from the start, not just to re-arrange school and family schedules, but to cultivate community-inclusive school cultures of achievement, engagement and discovery. So let’s seize the opportunity to think through what a highly effective and balanced learning day or year must offer.
How should schools should be organized and staffed to elevate the quality of education in poor communities, and to give all students the basics like arts and sports and other motivating opportunities that are standard in more affluent kids’ lives?
How do we reinvent schools to encompass great teaching, exciting hands-on learning in topics like science, and support for students to develop the traits and motivation they need to overcome poverty’s stresses?
The Governor put forth a few pathways. We just need to connect the dots. We can blend two of his proposals into one proven approach, by developing more community schools that give kids and families all the supports they need to succeed– as the Governor suggested – and that also expand the school day or year.
As an example, PS 186 in Brooklyn, one of TASC’s ExpandED Schools, provides 500 students with three additional hours of learning a day by adding to the school faculty 50 community educators who are trained and supported by NIA Community Services Network. The principal, teachers and NIA educators form one unified team that have broadened the curriculum beyond what the school could afford to offer alone, including musical theater, book clubs and After-School Science PLUS. NIA team leaders work with the school’s parent coordinator to target social and emotional supports, academic help and parent services to students and families who could benefit.
It just makes sense to expand learning by building strong partnerships that join schools with proven youth-serving community partners, like settlement houses, for four reasons.
First, New York State and cities that include Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse and New York under Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council, have already begun to break down bureaucratic silos and coordinate the efforts of schools and government agencies at all levels. We can build on those efforts that also bring together parents, businesses, foundations and community nonprofits, all of whom have a stake in the future success of our kids.
Second, it’s a cost-effective way to expand learning time. We know – because we do it in TASC ExpandED Schools – that we gain cost efficiencies and can serve more students when we partner schools with community organizations to expand learning opportunities by blending public and private, education and youth services funding.
Perhaps most importantly, this is the pathway to better outcomes for kids. The evidence is clear that high-needs students thrive when we use more learning time well to support both academic mastery and kids’ social and emotional skills and resiliency. They improve their school attendance, their attitudes toward learning and their academic achievement. With a third meal after 3 PM in schools that partner with community organizations, all kids get enough to eat. In a balanced learning day that covers the hours that parents work, kids get time to exercise and play, essential to their growing brains.
Finally, if we accept that changes in family structure and schedules, technology, and the demands of the international workplace all point to the eventual extinction of the 19th century agrarian-model school day, then we need to start thinking differently about who can help students learn. Schools and teachers can’t do it alone. Asking teachers to work an additional three hours every school day would lead not just to burnout, but to even greater stresses on school budgets.
That means changing what we picture when we think about schools. Many of us have a hard time conceiving of school as anything but a place where teachers stand in front of classrooms for 6-plus hours a day, 180 days a year, then disappear over the summer. All across the state, schools are breaking down barriers between schools and after-school programs and integrating community educators into their leadership teams and faculty -- informal science leaders, teaching artists, AmeriCorps members and youth development specialists. Community partners plan together with principals, teachers and parents to align curriculum and activities across the whole span of the learning day, including the hours after 3:00 pm.
The Governor and members of the New New York Education Reform Commission are conversant with the synergies between school-and-community partnerships and more and better learning for kids. It’s clear they’re thinking creatively about how to staff and organize schools to make the most of taxpayer investments. We applaud them for helping more citizens catch up to the vision of schools as community centers, not islands that stand alone.
Lucy N. Friedman is the President of TASC. She blogs about what she’s reading and other topics at The ExpandEd Exchange