Photo by DCPS

Recently released test scores show that extended school day programs work, says Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson. Whether she’ll be able to expand them to more schools may depend on the newly elected president of the Washington Teachers Union.

Last year 8 DCPS schools experimented with an extended school day, and 7 of them showed gains on the 2013 DC CAS in both reading and math.

Four of them had double-digit gains. Overall, gains at the extended day schools exceeded those at schools on a traditional schedule by a significant margin: 10.6 percentage points as compared to 3.3 points in math, and 7.2 points as compared to 3.7 points in reading. Based on those results, Henderson said, “We will be looking at how we can deepen and expand that work.”

But, she added, there are two possible barriers to expansion. One is money. The other is the need to renegotiate the teachers union contract to allow some form of extended hours.

The former WTU president, Nathan Saunders, had agreed in principle to some form of extended school day. But that agreement was thrown into doubt by the election of Elizabeth Davis, a longtime union activist, in early July. Davis hasn’t yet taken a position on the issue. To make matters even more uncertain, Saunders is now challenging the election results, a process that could drag on for some time. Saunders appealed the election results but then decided to withdraw the challenge, and Davis took office August 1.

Henderson said that she’s worked with Davis in the past and seemed optimistic that the two sides will reach a satisfactory agreement.

The 8 schools that experimented with extended day last year did so in a variety of ways. Some had extended hours three days a week, others had five-day programs, and one included hours on Saturdays. The programs were funded through a DCPS grants program called Proving What’s Possible.

Henderson emphasized that an extended school day doesn’t necessarily mean that teachers will work longer hours. Teachers’ hours could be staggered to accommodate an extended day, and outside organizations could be brought in as partners.

"We want to be creative,” she said, “but we need the flexibility that the contract doesn’t allow us.”

The one expanded-day school that didn’t post gains in its scores was Dunbar High School, the only secondary school in the group. The other 7 schools were elementary schools. Dunbar’s scores fell by 2.9 percentage points in math and 9.8 points in reading.

Dunbar has also pioneered a 9th grade academy program, which separates first-time 9th-graders from students who are repeating the grade and provides them with extra support. Henderson plans to expand the 9th grade academy program to all neighborhood DCPS high schools this year. She dismissed the suggestion that Dunbar’s score slippage indicated that the program doesn’t work.

"You can’t go by just one year,” she said.

DCPS is basing its expansion of the program not solely on Dunbar’s experience, Henderson said, but on extensive research on the success of 9th grade academies around the country. In addition, this year’s Dunbar 9th graders didn’t take the DC CAS, which at the high school level is given only to 10th graders. Although Dunbar’s 10th graders had a version of the 9th grade academy experience the previous year, the program was strengthened and expanded this past year.

Henderson also said that she has no second thoughts about closing one school, Macfarland Middle School, that achieved significant gains in both reading and math. The closure decision was based on under-enrollment rather than academic performance, but there’s a possibility that Macfarland’s improved scores could have attracted more students.

"We make bets every year,” Henderson said. “Sometimes they’re wrong, sometimes they’re right.”

She said that the closure will save resources, and that the students from Macfarland have been reassigned to other good schools.

Overall, middle school students made some of the most significant gains on the DC CAS. Henderson said she hopes the improvement in performance will stem the attrition of families from the school system after elementary school.