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D.C. Mayor Calls For Longer School Days, Closing Some Schools

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D.C. Public Schools, such as the H.D. Cooke School shown here, could be implementing longer school days and a longer school year under D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray's new plan. 
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D.C. Public Schools, such as the H.D. Cooke School shown here, could be implementing longer school days and a longer school year under D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray's new plan. 

The District is considering longer school days and an extended school year as it looks to boost student test scores and improve graduation rates. 

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and schools chancellor Kaya Henderson are launching a five year plan to "reform the city's struggling school system," and it also includes the possibility of closing some schools.

The blueprint includes some specific goals, such as raising the graduation rate from 53 percent to 75 percent, and improving proficiency levels in math and science to 70 percent. Right now, that number is only 43 percent.

As part of the plan, the city is working on a pilot program to extend the school day. It would be implemented in a small number of schools at first, according to Gray.

"Somewhere along the way somebody defined that, 30 hours a week was enough for kids," he said as he rolled out the plan Wednesday. "We don't think so, and there is starting to be the mounting evidence elsewhere. You look at charter schools that have a longer school days, it benefits the children, instructionally."

Gray hopes the plan will also benefit parents, especially those who struggle to find activities for their children when school lets out.

"I think there has been an acknowledgement of this already, in the number of after-school programs we have," Gray said. "The feeling that kids should be doing something after 3 p.m. Well, how about the 'something' being school?"

But longer school days would mean longer hours for teachers. Henderson, the DCPS chancellor, says there is some flexibility in the new Washington Teachers Union contract that allows for longer school days. She says she is working on the issue with WTU President Nathan Saunders.

"I sat down with Mr. Saunders last Friday and we discussed this and he is totally on board to figure how this would work with members," she said. The city is also looking at a longer school year. 

But the most controversial part of the plan may be the call for school closings. In the coming weeks, the city will announce some school closings and consolidations, the mayor said yesterday. Gray added that the current ratio of schools to students is "unsustainable."

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