School District Proposes Lengthening Elementary, Upper School Days

schoolPhoto courtesy of the Improving Elementary & Upper School Schedules to Advance Equity draft proposal.

WHAT: The Cambridge school district has drafted proposed changes that would include lengthening the school day, allowing for more personalized learning, and adding time for teachers to collaborate during the day. The drafted proposal, if adopted, would lengthen the six-hour school day by 45 minutes, with the option of a five-hour day each Wednesday. A six-hour day is among the shortest in the nation, according to the district.

WHO: The changes would be for elementary (through grade 5) and upper (grades 6 through 8) schools. Martin Luther King and Fletcher Maynard Academy, which currently have eight-hour school days, would be unaffected.

WHY: The schedule changes were inspired by the ongoing achievement gaps that have left some demographics trailing, as measured by MCAS scores, including English language learners, students with high needs or disabilities, some students of color, and economically disadvantaged students.

State data from the 2016-2017 school year grade 3 mathematics MCAS test, for example, shows that 10 percent of non-economically disadvantaged students were classified as exceeding expectations, and 50 percent as meeting expectations—compared to three percent of economically disadvantaged students who exceeded expectations, and 28 percent who met expectations.

Superintendent Kenneth Salim says there are many competing priorities for the district’s short school days—including ample recess time and subject areas like art and music—and calls the current schedule “short and inflexible.”

Extending the school day, though, would not simply mean another 45 minutes of the status quo, Salim explains: “What would we do if we had a blank canvas, and thought about the six-hour-and-45-minute day, and how would we design the schedule in order to meet the needs of our most vulnerable students, as well as meeting the needs of all of our educators and the entire range of needs in a school?”

“We don’t have a schedule that really allows for personalizing support for every student in the way that we think is necessary to help close those gaps that we see in performance,” he says. “So having a schedule that is longer would allow for more flexibility to have blocks of time where we might be able to support our most struggling learners, as well as personalized support for students that maybe have mastered the content.”

One of the tools that would be used to help close the achievement gap would be “What I Need” blocks, which could utilize classroom teachers, specialists, and staff specifically to help with students’ individual needs.

Salim and Communications Manager Rosalie Rippey emphasize that changes at each school would be individualized to meet the particular school’s needs.

WHEN: Changes would be implemented in the 2020-2021 school year. The district is in the process of gathering community feedback to help shape the final proposal, which will go to the School Committee for approval in February.