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D.C. Extends Day At 25 Schools, Hoping That More Time Means Better Scores

Most D.C. schools end at 3:15 p.m., but some will be going for an additional hour this year.
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Most D.C. schools end at 3:15 p.m., but some will be going for an additional hour this year.

As students returned to D.C. public schools across the city yesterday, some may have been getting a message they may not be happy to hear: their school days just got longer.

Twenty-five schools are extending their days this year, adding an hour's worth of instruction time that proponents say is valuable for helping struggling students catch up. The program started at eight schools in the 2012-13 academic year, and was expanded this year as D.C. officials focus on closing an achievement gap that has long seen economically disadvantaged students fall behind their peers.

D.C. schools operate on a seven-and-a-half hour day, starting at 8:45 a.m. and letting out at 3:15 p.m. Under the current plan, each of the 25 schools could to add time before or after their morning or afternoon bells.

"We have 25 schools that have decided to extend their day," said D.C. Schools Kaya Chancellor Kaya Henderson, touting the program during a morning tour of various schools on Monday. "In some cases they're extending it an hour, in some cases longer, some in the morning, some in the afternoon. To give our schools the flexibility to have more time with their students is what students were asking for, it’s what teachers were asking for, it’s what parents were supporting."

Henderson had originally planned to see the extended day program expand to 40 schools, but a conflict with the city's teachers union left her short of that goal. Teachers at every eligible school were required to vote on the proposal, a move that union officials said violated the spirit of the contract between teachers and the city. In some schools, a vote was not allowed to take place, a move Henderson called "frustrating."

Still, Henderson said she expects that the extended day at the 17 new schools that adopted it will help raise test scores. During the 2012-13 pilot year, the eight schools that extended their days saw higher-than-usual gains on the city's annual student assessments.

This year, the extended day will cover more grades, as a number of elementary schools are joined by eight education campuses, which serve students from K through eighth grade.

The longer days come as D.C. pushes to offer more resources to at-risk students, who continue to trail their peers in math and reading proficiency.

An additional $80 million dollars is going to help up to 35,000 students who are homeless or in foster care, on welfare or food stamps or a year behind their peers in high school. Henderson and others say that the infusion — roughly $2,200 per student — will help chip away at the achievement gap.

Earlier this year, a study conducted by Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith found that at-risk students should be given additional weight in the annual per-pupil funding formula. A bill sponsored by D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At Large) required that the money be used during the 2013-14 school year.

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