BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — About 4,000 students in Rochester will be spending a lot more time in the classroom beginning next school year as part of a five-state pilot program intended to improve student achievement.
Eight schools in the low-income western New York district will add at least 300 hours of class time and enrichment under the program announced Monday by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Proponents described a need to re-imagine and redesign the school year, especially in areas of high poverty, to better prepare students for college or jobs. The extra time will allow for improved collaboration and planning among teachers and opportunities to learn the arts and technology. It also will make it easier for schools to meet increasingly rigorous curriculum demands, they said.
‘‘This is common sense,’’ said Rochester Superintendent Bolgen Vargas, who attended Monday’s launch of the TIME (Time of Innovation Matters in Education) Collaborative in Washington. He said 90 percent of the children in his 32,000-student district qualify for free or reduced lunches.
‘‘If you come to school behind, it only makes sense that if you’re going to close the achievement gap, you’re going to have to give them more time,’’ he said. ‘‘I believe learning is a function of time and effort, and of course quality teachers and good schools as well.’’
The district won the support of the union by allowing the faculty at participating schools to negotiate certain contractual provisions, said Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association and vice president of the American Federation of Teachers.
‘‘We involve teachers directly so that they own it,’’ Urbanski said. ‘‘They have a stake in it. We think that increases the likelihood of success.’’
Along with the Rochester students, about 15,500 students at schools in 10 districts in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Tennessee are in line for the extended learning program, which Duncan hopes to quickly expand. About 1,000 districts nationwide already have adopted longer school days and years, according to the National Center on Time & Learning, which is offering technical support for participating schools.
All of the test districts must spend the next year on planning.
‘‘This is not just about adding time and doing more of the same. It’s about creating a learning day that suits the needs of our children, the realities of working parents and the commitment of our teachers,’’ said Luis Ubinas, president of the Ford Foundation, which is giving $3 million in annual funding for three years. ‘‘It’s a total school makeover.’’
Students in high-needs districts stand to benefit most from additional instructional time, but it may be cost-prohibitive and unnecessary to lengthen the school day and school year across the state, particularly in high-achieving districts, a spokesman for the New York State United Teachers union said.
‘‘Additional time for instruction is just one piece of the puzzle,’’ spokesman Carl Korn said. ‘‘If we’re going to end the achievement gap, it’s going to mean providing social services in the school settings for those students who otherwise do without.’’