time's up

Bloomberg, Walcott join national coalition for more school time

A study of New York City charter schools that found a strong link between the amount of instructional time students got and their achievement is being held up as an evidence for a national push for longer school days.

Roland Fryer, the Harvard University researcher who completed the study, found in a different investigation that student test scores inched up — by about .015 points per day of school — in years with few snow days.

Fryer spoke during a press call this morning announcing the debut of the Time to Succeed Coalition, which is calling for schools to expand their day and year — an often controversial proposition. It also calls on schools to redesign the way they use time in order to beef up the curriculum and ensure students get a well-rounded education.

The coalition’s chairs are Chris Gabrieli, the longtime extended-day advocate who chairs the National Center on Time & Learning, and Ford Foundation president Luis Ubiñas. They have attracted more than 100 coalition members from across state, sector, and political lines, ranging from the CEO of Netflix to the president of the NAACP. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and State Education Commissioner John King have all signed on as well, committing to prioritize the expansion and redesign of school time in the coming years.

During the call, Ubiñas called the formation of the coalition a “seminal moment” and said that the proof  is in the performance of the thousands of schools across the country that have implemented longer school days. Over the next three years, the Ford Foundation will be investing at least $50 million to help schools add time, with a special emphasis on helping schools that serve low-income students.

The goal of the coalition is to raise awareness among decision-makers, by encouraging them to use the federal School Improvement Grants and the No Child Left Behind waiver process to expand and redesign school time. It also aims to build up a grassroots movement, rallying teachers, communities, and civil rights groups for the cause. Over the next two years, the hope is to double the number of schools across the country that offer more instructional time to their students.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; Newark Mayor Cory Booker; and Jeff Smith, superintendent of Arizona’s Balsz school district all joined in on the call as well, touting the importance of more school.

In 2009, Smith took President Barack Obama’s call to rethink the school day to heart and upped the Balsz calendar to 200 days. In the last two years, his students have closed the test score gap between their district and the rest of the state by over two thirds.

While more time seems like it might equate to more money, Gabrieli said there are creative options like staggering teacher start time and leaning on community partners that could make extending the school day affordable.

Weingarten was president of the city’s teachers union in 2006, when the UFT agreed to extend the school day by 37.5 minutes four days a week in exchange for a pay increase. Today, she said she is confident teachers will support Time to Succeed, and that one of her roles as union president is also to ensure that teachers are compensated fairly for their additional time.

“There’s this crazy ideal if you work harder and longer you get better results,” Booker said. “But it actually proves true.”

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.