Just over a week ago, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced that four Colorado school districts would take part in a pilot program to test the benefits of longer school days.
While Hickenlooper would likely find a cool reception to this idea among most students, a body of research suggests increased class time correlates with significant gains in academic performance.
Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 was not among the guinea pig districts chosen; that distinction went to districts in Denver, Boulder, Jefferson County and Adams County. Each will add at least 300 hours of learning time to the calendar year, according to the Associated Press.
Lauding the program as "exactly what America needs," Re-1 Superintendent Alex Carter was crestfallen to be omitted. In particular, he was frustrated districts were not given the opportunity to make a case for inclusion.
Carter heard about the program the morning of Monday, Dec. 3, the day it was first publicized in the media. He immediately dialed the state's deputy commissioner of education.
"I asked him 'whose stoop do I need to pitch my tent on to take part in this?' I wanted to throw our hat in the ring. It was a little devastating to find the selections were already made and it was a done deal," Carter said.
While stating he was glad the four Front Range districts will get to experiment, Carter questioned the wisdom of giving more hours to larger districts with greater resources.
"Those kids (up there) need more time, too. I'm not about building us up while knocking others down. But who is in most need?" he asked.
Montezuma-Cortez RE-1 currently holds class for 164 days per academic year (162 for elementary schools), the lowest threshold permitted by state law. For comparison, Durango School District 9R has 175 school days, a district where Carter previously worked in Virginia had 184, and Japanese schools are in session for more than 200 days. By the time Cortez students take their first standardized tests in third grade, Carter said, "Durango kids have 48 more days of learning time under their belts."
As ever, the reason is financial.
"It's a sheer function of cost," Carter said. "Telluride has $9,600 to spend per student (annually). In Cortez, we have $6,112. Class time is expensive because teachers need to be compensated for their hours."
Besides Colorado, the pilot program - called "Time Collaborative" - also is enlisting schools in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts and Tennessee. All together almost 20,000 students in 40 schools will participate over three years.
The program is partially funded by the National Center on Time & Learning, a nonprofit that promotes more face-to-face teacher-student interaction.
In an April 2012 report, David Farbman, senior researcher for NCTL, expounded on the benefits of more class time, which he called an "equalizer" to closing the so-called achievement gap between students from rich and poor families.
"Because schoolchildren from high-poverty backgrounds typically enter school behind their more affluent peers academically and continue to lag behind as they age, and because these students often lack meaningful learning opportunities outside school," he writes, "the...benefits of additional time within school hold special weight for them."
He also writes that in a four-state survey, only 48 percent of teachers believed they had sufficient time to cover their curriculum.
According to NCTL's website, more class hours allow students to examine and comprehend topics in greater depth, engage in hands-on projects and small group discussion, connect concepts across subjects, hear difficult material a second time and have their questioned answered.
In addition, NCTL notes that science, social studies, music, art and physical education classes are the first ones cut - if class time is in short supply - to give priority to tested subjects like math and reading.