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Day To Get Longer At Some Low-Performing Schools

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Audie Cornish.

Kids in five states can look forward to a longer school day next year. A public-private partnership is offering up some extra money to cover the cost. It will cover additional instruction for about 20,000 students in Colorado, Connecticut, New York, Tennessee and Massachusetts. Here is NPR's Tovia Smith.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: More and better is how the idea was described by advocates today. Funding from the Ford Foundation, along with state and federal monies will pay for 300 extra hours a year of instruction in poor and low-performing school districts.

SECRETARY ARNE DUNCAN: And I think this is the kernels of a national movement.

SMITH: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been a big booster of more time in school, not just because it allows for more learning and individual intervention, but also, he says, it offer students more social support and supervision in the very risky after-school hours.

DUNCAN: When I led the Chicago Public Schools, we had one child killed due to gun violence every two weeks. And none of those kids were killed during the school day, and almost none of them were killed at 12 at night or 3 in the morning. It was at 3 o'clock to 7 o'clock. And those hours are times of huge anxiety, huge stress.

SMITH: About 1,000 schools around the nation have already extended school hours either later in the day or into the summer. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy says it's a no-brainer to finally change a school calendar that was devised centuries ago to accommodate an agrarian economy.

GOVERNOR DANNEL MALLOY: I joked earlier, if we do all of this, who's going to bring the crops in? The reality is that we would not have designed the school day or school year if we had started our national history at a different time. So this is our time to change.

SMITH: Many schools who've already extended their school hours report improvements in both attendance and test scores. Meg Mayo Brown is superintendent in Fall River, Massachusetts, where she says even the most troubled school benefited.

MEG MAYO BROWN, SUPERINTENDENT, FALL RIVER PUBLIC SCHOOLS: When it was first designated as chronically underperforming, parents could not get out of that school fast enough. There was a mass exodus. Today, in 2012, it is my most over-selected, highest-performing middle school in Fall River with a waiting list of students to get in.

SMITH: But critics say more hours can't take all the credit. The research, they say, is mixed.

FRANK MCLAUGHLIN, PRESIDENT, LAWRENCE TEACHERS UNION: From the teacher's perspective, it's really - it's not the silver bullet.

SMITH: Frank McLaughlin is president of the teachers union in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where troubled schools are now in state receiverships. He says complex problems and deep poverty in communities like his can't be solved by something as simple as a longer school day. It can help, McLaughlin says, but teachers need to be better paid for the extra hours.

UNION: Sometimes it's quite a bit less than the contractual hourly rate. In fact, in one of the schools it's less the minimum wage. It's almost that they take advantage of young teachers.

SMITH: Longer hours have been a sticking point in teacher contracts elsewhere. But Duncan says the bickering shouldn't derail what he calls a common sense plan.

DUNCAN: As a country, we have not taken this step for a long time due to sort of adult intransience, and you get into real basic fights about cleaning up and toilet paper and other things like that. And those are the real issues that unfortunately historically has stopped this from happening.

SMITH: Funding, however, will likely remain an obstacle. While today's new partnership allows some schools to expand hours, elsewhere, other schools who've tried it are now returning to their old shorter schedules because of the expense. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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