All students can learn, educators are fond of saying, and it’s probably true. But it’s also true that many kids in lower-income communities are so far behind, and so turned off by the regular school experience, that failure is almost inevitable.
The trick is to find different ways of engaging these kids and giving them the time they need to catch up. That’s what a promising pilot project announced last week, involving districts in five states — New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Colorado and Tennessee — will try to do.
This is a collaborative effort by the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning, which are providing funding and technical expertise, and the federal and state governments, which are also providing money. Starting in September, after a year for planning, participating school districts — in New York it will be Rochester — will add at least 300 hours to the school year. That’s around one and three-quarter hours a day, a 30 percent increase.
Extra time for learning is exactly what struggling inner-city students need if they are to catch up with their better-off peers, who have advantages such as music lessons, museum visits and summer camps that they do not.
But it isn’t just time, the organizers stress, it must be time well spent. That means something other than more of the same subjects presented in the same way. It means finding different ways to reach a school, group of kids, or even a particular kid, whether it’s the arts, hands-on projects, internships, or something else.
A growing number of charter schools and public schools trying to improve are adding hours in the morning, afternoon or weekends.
And the results are encouraging, whether the measurement is student interest or learning. The two are obviously related, and the pilot project should provide more evidence and models.