By John Lynds
The City of Boston last week announced that several East Boston public schools would receive funding to extend the school day and provide more learning time for local students.
The money Eastie schools will receive is part of a $14 million investment in the city’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget.
“I am proud that Boston will soon provide more time for enrichment, intervention and personalized learning opportunities to a majority of our students,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who has made expanding learning time a major focus of his administration. “Our children need and deserve more time for high-quality instruction. Research tells us that there is a real positive connection between a longer school day and stronger student growth.”
In Eastie the Samuel Adams, Dante Alighieri, Manassah Bradley, Donald McKay, Hugh O’Donnell and P.J. Kennedy will join 33 other Boston Public Schools that will benefit from extended learning time next school year. BPS educators said extending the school day has been a proven method in closing the opportunity gaps for students.
Each school in Eastie will get 40 more minutes of added classroom time, impacting over 1,000 students in the neighborhood.
BPS Superintendent Dr. Tommy Chang said BPS is making the creation of a longer school day a cornerstone of the district’s budget for the coming fiscal year.
“I want to commend Mayor Walsh for his ongoing support to expand learning time for our students, who traditionally have received fewer classroom hours than the national average,” said Dr. Chang. “This is a critical component in our effort to close opportunity and achievement gaps.”
According to a statewide study in Massachusetts published in 2012, schools with extended learning showed a “statistically significant” positive effect in fifth grade science, sixth grade math, eighth grade science and seventh grade English Language Arts. Students in ELT schools also outperformed their peers in non-ELT schools in growth measurements on all MCAS tests.
“It is clear that a longer school day can contribute to improving student gains,” said Dr. Chang. “However, those gains are not achieved simply by providing more instructional hours to students. ELT also provides our educators additional time each week to collaborate as a team to improve instruction and student growth. Our teachers have given us overwhelmingly positive feedback that this is important in creating a culture of quality teaching.”
Dr. Chang added that by prioritizing long-term financial planning BPS has taken steps to ensure that there will be no changes to the school funding formula in the budget that he will present to the School Committee on February 1. BPS uses a weighted student funding formula that allocates money for school budgets based on student need.
He said that despite continuing uncertainties around state funding and other fiscal pressures, BPS is committed to maintaining student weights to provide principals with the confidence needed to start planning for next school year.
In FY18, funding directed to schools will increase by three percent; even before employee collective bargaining increases are negotiated.
“We have been working hard to identify greater operational efficiencies within BPS and to further streamline our Central Office operations,” said Dr. Chang. “I am very excited to announce that we are prepared to balance the FY18 budget without any changes to the way schools are funded through student weights.”
Dr. Chang said BPS believes in allowing families to choose the school that’s the best fit for their children.
“To make school choice possible, dollars follow students,” Dr. Chang explained, noting that individual school budgets will be driven by their enrollments and student populations.
Eleanor Laurans, Chief Financial Officer for BPS, said the district is developing ways to address the pressures on its budget through a Long Term Financial Plan. The district has kicked off a series of community events to get input on potential ways to unlock dollars to be re-invested in classrooms.
“That work has already begun paying off this year,” said Laurans. “BPS remains committed to our long term planning effort, which will allow us to maximize dollars that go to school budgets while also identifying additional resources for investment. One of those critical investments will roll out next year as we implement extended learning time.”
So far BPS has provided extended learning time to approximately 13,500 students attending more than 30 non-traditional schools, including innovation, pilot, turnaround and Horace Mann in-district charter schools, as well as early education centers.
In 2015-16, as part of an agreement with the Boston Teachers Union, BPS implemented extended learning time at an additional 18 elementary, middle and K-8 schools with 600 teachers serving 7,500 students. Combined with the group of schools that will provide extended learning time next school year, a total of more than 23,000 students in 57 schools with 1,700 teachers will benefit from extended learning time.