by Pat Kirby, Executive Director of Citizen Schools Massachusetts Citizen Schools is featured in a recent editorial by Lawrence Harmon in the Boston Globe about “what it takes to close the achievement gap between low-income urban students and their suburban counterparts.” “No one likes to hear city schools compared to factories,” he writes. “But they do have one thing in common: the productive ones need second shifts.”
Harmon argues that successful turnaround efforts “often require adding two, three, or even more hours of academic and enrichment programs to the school day.” But he says that the additional time needn’t be the sole responsibility of the current teaching cohort:
The better and more affordable solution is to mobilize a second shift of young educators who are fresh in the afternoon, don’t have to worry about grading papers, and aren’t pressed for time with family obligations.
This swing shift is already hard at work. The non-profit Citizen Schools embeds AmeriCorps teaching fellows and local volunteers in four of the city’s middle schools. More than 20 percent of the city’s sixth graders already spend almost three extra hours each day engaged in after-school tutoring, engineering projects, art, theater, and other enrichment programs with Citizen Schools staff and volunteers from local businesses and industry.
Eric Schwarz, the CEO of Citizen Schools, thinks it’s possible to enroll half of the city’s middle schoolers in his and similar extended-day programs within three years. That would be a game changer in Boston, where students in schools supplemented by Citizen Schools programs, such as the Edwards School in Charlestown, show academic growth on a par with some of the city’s best charter schools, which also feature longer school days.
We agree. Expanded Learning Time (ELT), done well, can be a pathway to transforming education for a majority of students in Boston. And it’s exciting to see the idea of a “second shift” taking hold.
Over 16 years of evolving school partnerships, though, we’ve found that to really create an expanded learning day requires a deep partnership between schools and Citizen Schools—a single, powerful team focused on student success. Teachers and union representatives have supported and championed Citizen Schools’ second shift in our 30-plus partner schools across the country.
Keep in mind: while most core teachers teach for about five hours, their workdays stretch to as long as nine or ten when you include planning, developing lessons, reviewing student data, grading papers, talking to parents, and on and on. When Citizen Schools fills the expanded learning time with real-world, relevant learning experiences that link education to college and career success, students are more engaged in the excellent instruction they get with the teachers in the first part of the day.
And in some Citizen Schools partnerships, regular school day teachers do work an extra 30-60 minutes to collaborate with second shift staff to ensure seamless transition for students. You don’t hear a factory whistle—it’s more like passing a baton to a teammate to run the next lap.
We believe that Expanded Learning Time partnerships like the ones Citizen Schools is running are indeed changing the game for middle school students in Boston and around the country. And transforming struggling schools into achievement factories is not only possible. It’s essential.
Learn more about Citizen Schools' work in Boston and beyond here.