Daily Hampshire Gazette - Established 1786
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Longer school day for more than 5,000 Massachusetts students

Schools in the cities of Fall River and Lawrence will add 300 hours to their school year starting in 2013 as part of the three-year pilot program.

The program includes about 19,500 students in five states (an estimated 5,066 in Massachusetts) and is funded with federal, state and district money. The Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning are also contributing resources.

It is hoped the initiative will improve the global competitiveness of U.S. students by expanding and better using the school day.

Massachusetts already has 65 schools with expanded learning time programs, including 19 state-funded schools with about 10,700 students. The state was early adopter of expanded learning, starting its programs in 2006. The programs were funded this year with $14.1 million in grants.

The extended-day programs have different emphases in different places. The existing state-funded programs, for instance, emphasize core subjects, including math, literacy and science.

The focuses of the pilot program announced Monday include individual help for struggling students, using data and technology in instruction and more opportunities in the arts and music.

Expanded learning programs are often located in higher poverty areas, where children face more problems that interfere with learning, such as hunger and less parental involvement. All of the 19 state-funded schools are located in cities, from Greenfield to Boston.

The programs are costly, often face parental skepticism and haven’t worked everywhere. For instance, Southbridge and Framingham dropped extended day programs.

But national education officials say the programs have proven an effective and a badly-needed makeover of the traditional school day. Heather Johnson, spokeswoman for state Executive Office of Education, said the pilot program’s inclusion of Massachusetts cities is an affirmation of the work that’s been done in state.

“We see it as good news,” Johnson said.

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