Making ELT Work in Boston

A Conversation with Boston Academic Superintendent Jeff Riley

CAP’s Associate Director of Education Policy Melissa Lazarín interviews Boston Public Schools Academic Superintendent Jeff Riley about implementing expanded learning time in one of his schools.

A student participates in a Latin dance class as part of the extended school day at Edwards Middle School in Boston. (AP/Michael Dwyer)
A student participates in a Latin dance class as part of the extended school day at Edwards Middle School in Boston. (AP/Michael Dwyer)

Listen to the podcast with Jeff Riley (mp3)

The expanded learning time initiative in Massachusetts schools is designed to offer children new learning and enrichment opportunities through an expanded school schedule. Melissa Lazarín, the Associate Director of Education Policy at the Center for American Progress, recently spoke with Jeff Riley, the academic superintendent for middle and K-8 schools in Boston, about what one Boston school is doing with its extra time.

Melissa Lazarín: I understand that Edwards Middle School was awarded a grant in 2006 from the Massachusetts Department of Education to expand learning time. How did expanding learning time change the way the school day looks at Edwards?

Jeff Riley: The Massachusetts Department of Education offered 26 schools the opportunity to expand their day, and different schools chose different models. Some schools decided they were going to take their 60-minute classes and make them 80-minute classes. We did more of what I call a “layer cake” approach where we took our traditional school day and kept it intact, and then added on an extra academic piece and an extra enrichment piece. What that said, we made it one seamless day, so the kids knew that this wasn’t an after-school program, this was just part of the school day. The school day went from 7:20 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. to 7:20 a.m. to about 4:15 p.m.

ML: Wow. That’s quite a bit of time there. My understanding is that Edwards wasn’t doing so well prior to the move to an expanded school day. How do you think expanded learning time played a role in turning around the school?

JR: I think it was crucial to what we were doing. Edwards was arguably the lowest-performing middle school in Boston—enrollment was dropping significantly. I think the time was a necessary but maybe not sufficient component. We had to have it, but we also needed to rethink how we were teaching, look at data, things like that. But none of that could have been done without having the extra time component to do it.

ML: I hear that expanded learning time is not just about adding more time for academic subjects like math and reading. Was this the case at Edwards? If so, how did the additional time help round out the school course offerings for students?

JR: Absolutely. I don’t think if we just used the extra three hours to provide extra academic instruction that the children would have been very pleased with that. We had a conscientious decision to go out and start a football team and we had the only middle school football team in the city, and we played some of the suburban teams. We also had theater arts and dancing and chorus, and we had the Boston Ballet come in and work with our kids. So we provided our kids with enrichment opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t have had. We talk a lot about the achievement gap, but we don’t talk a lot about the opportunity gap where kids in the suburbs may have access to a lot more opportunities than kids in the city whose parents sometimes work two or three jobs. And so we gave kids these opportunities, and I would say they were just as crucial as the academic time.

ML: Yes, I’m sure they like those even more than math and reading on some days. A lot of schools work with community organizations to operate after-school programs. How did the role of after-school providers change after the school day was expanded at Edwards?

JR: Well, this is kind of a revolutionary concept. Historically, I think you’ve had schools and then after-school providers, and they were in two camps. What we’ve done at Edwards is to bridge that gap and get people to work together. Clearly our teachers were involved with the expanded learning time part of the day, but we also recognized we needed outside providers, typically those who had worked on after-school-type programming.

ML: I imagine that in some ways their role has become elevated within the school. I understand they’re co-teaching some classes.

JR: Right. We have a variety of partners at the school, one of which was Citizen Schools. They worked with a lot of our sixth graders, and they did some tutoring as well as getting kids internships and other things like that.

We made it one faculty with not just Citizen Schools but the other outside providers. We felt that everyone who was involved with our kids needed to be on the same page so there were a lot of cross-trainings and all-faculty events. We never distinguished between an Edwards teacher, a Citizen Schools teacher, a Medicine Wheel teacher, or a Boston Ballet teacher, which is a seamless thing. It was very important for us to do that.

ML: What about teachers. Do teachers really want to work all these extra hours?

JR: I think the best thing that the Boston Public Schools did in regard to expanded learning time was that when they worked with the union they created a side agreement that said it was going to be voluntary for those teachers who were already at the school. Teachers could feel free to choose to stay for the extra time, and they were paid at their contractual hourly rate, or they could go home at the regular school time.

Now, all the people at Edwards stayed for at least an hour, which was great. And it was necessary for what we were trying to do around data and extra instruction. With that said, I personally worry that if our teachers stayed every day for three hours that we might get some fatigue and burnout, which is why we needed a second shift of workers and some of the partners we talked about earlier to help us.

ML: So it’s important to provide that voluntary option for teachers.

JR: It was in Boston. I know it’s worked in different ways in different places, but in Boston it’s worked well for us.

ML: Well, it’s always great to learn a little bit more about how this is working on the ground, so thanks for being with us today.

JR: Thanks for having me.

Listen to the podcast with Jeff Riley (mp3)

Melissa Lazarín is Associate Director of Education Policy at American Progress.

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Melissa Lazarín

Senior Policy Adviser