Kennedy’s back with round two of the TIME—Time for Innovation Matters in Education—Act. The acronym could use some work but the proposed legislation looks pretty good and is well-timed following declarations by both Obama and Duncan about the need to expand school time.
The TIME Act expands school time in high-need schools so low-income students have more opportunities to learn. It’s based, and not loosely, on the model used by Mass2020 — planning and evaluation are front and center, there is a lot of flexibility in how time is used, and schools must increase time for core academics, enrichment activities, and teacher planning and collaboration. In total, TIME authorizes $350 million in the first year and up to $500 million in 2014 for competitive grants to state education agencies, who will match a percentage of the grant (10% in first year and up from there) and then distribute at least 90% via subgrant process to locals—the rest is for state planning, evaluation and technical assistance (on tech assistance, look for a lot of groups stepping up to offer their services to states—besides the obvious National Center on Time & Learning which is intimately tied to the TIME Act.
Things you should know about the TIME Act:
• It targets high poverty schools (50% or more students FARM eligible) so it’s going to reach the kids who need it most. I’m very glad to hear less of the talk about how American kids can’t compete and the whole public school calendar is antiquated and therefore we should extend school from dawn to dusk and birth to death—and hear more about the fact that poor kids need shorter breaks and better opportunities to learn. This is what it’s always been about, this is what the research backs, and this is the only way to budge the big hand on the clock (there are still plenty of parents and teachers in happy middle class suburbs that have no intention of expanding the schedules or calendars in their schools—maybe in ten years, or twenty, but not yet). Risk of targeting high-poverty schools of course is that these schools are likely to be low-performing and may not have the capacity they need to pull it off. See further down…
• Grants are for 6 years. This type of initiative needs time, no pun, since it’s a major shift in custom and culture to see school as more than a 6-hour a day Labor to Memorial Day endeavor. And years are necessary to determine, at the district, state and national level, which time models are the most sustainable and effective as reforms—again, the idea of redesigning school schedules and calendars is no small thing so if we’re going to do this we should figure out what works and what doesn’t. On this note, TIME Act includes money for a national evaluation.
• The 6 years includes a full year for planning with a subset of schools. This year of planning is essential—not every school is ready for this and the potential for wasted money and time is enormous. Planning year, plus competitive nature of grants should help avoid the “bad schools now open longer” problem. This is very real risk–increasing student learning is of course the goal here but there are incentives to keep kids in school, even if they’re not learning anything. Parents want to know their kids are safe, businesses don’t want to be responsible for policing kids in the afternoon, and police don’t really want this responsibility either. [As an aside, I once asked the principal of a high school where I worked why students were watching Jerry Springer from 4-5pm every afternoon—just watching, not discussing, not thinking. The principal said it was a reward for good behavior all day and helped keep them engaged in school. I'll stop there].
• Restrictions on how the time can be used are few and intentionally imprecise, although there is a hard fast number for the amount of time schools must extend time by— at least 300 hours (an arbitrary number). Still, schools have a lot of leeway in choosing how they use those hours– to enhance learning in core academic subjects, or for enrichment, or for teacher planning and collaboration. Schools can extend by hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the year—or any combination. And there is additional flexibility built in for high schools—elementary and middles must extend for all kids, but high schools have to do so for only kids in at least one grade—likely this is aimed at younger students, so ninth-grade academies and small school initiatives will align nicely with this. This kind of flexibility is important not only in an operational sense—schools have different needs—but also in an experimental sense—again, to learn what works in what context. Risk here is that flexibility puts a lot of pressure on the leadership to build a schedule and organize staff with some serious strategy in mind.
• There are also few restrictions on who is doing what to extend time–so partnerships can be forged between LEAs and universities and community agencies. This will bridge the worlds of school-based and out-of-school learning, which is good. But it will be messy at first—who provides which services, who hires and oversees staff, who serves as the fiscal agent, and who’s accountable for what outcomes? All questions that the extended time movement will stir up and hopefully help answer.