Home‎ > ‎

ELT in the News

Here are some recent articles about ELT in our communities:

From Lowell Sun (September 28, 2008)

Longer days eyed for Pepperell elementary school

By Hiroko Sato, hsato@lowellsun.com
Article Last Updated: 09/28/2008 06:43:08 AM EDT

PEPPERELL -- Students at Varnum Brook Elementary School might need to hop on the bus one hour earlier every morning and leave the school 20 minutes later starting next fall.

That's because the North Middlesex Regional School District is hoping to introduce "Expanded Learning Time" at Varnum Brook as a pilot program if the state provides funding for it. Some parents who oppose the ELT initiative believe a longer school day would take away precious hours for extracurricular activities and cut into their children's sleep time.

But district officials say it's a schedule many students across the country follow day in and day out, learning more and loving it.

"We developed the (six-hour-a-day) schedule a long time ago when the kids used to harvest crops," Assistant Superintendent of Schools Deborah Brady said. "Many other states and private schools have more hours than public schools in Massachusetts."

Those longer hours help prepare students for international competition in the work force, Brady said.

Brady said the school district expects to receive feedback from the state on its expanded-hours plan by Oct. 10.

The ELT initiative is part of a grant program by the state Department of Education to help schools extend instructional time by 300 hours per year to promote student achievement. It provides selected districts with $1,300 per student so that the children can spend more time studying such core subjects as English, math and science while enjoying additional enrichment programs. ELT schools must provide more professional development opportunities to the teachers.

Brady said Varnum Brook and Squannacook Elementary School in Townsend -- which serve third- through fifth-graders -- are both interested in ELT, but Squannacook needs more time to prepare an application. The district has already received $7,000 from the state toward a feasibility study at the two schools. If the state OKs the preliminary plan, the district will have until Dec. 1 to submit a final plan, on which the state will decide whether or not to grant the funding.

Superintendent of Schools Maureen Marshall has said the district may not get the grant because it is adamant about allowing parents to opt out of ELT. Brady said many suburban parents moved here in pursuit of lifestyles that allow them to spend more time with their children, and the district wants to respect their values. ELT schools are mostly in urban areas.

That's one of the points made by a local group, Parents Against Expanded Learning Time.

"Parents who have sacrificed careers or who juggle work and home life in order to be home to help with homework and after-school activities would be replaced by strangers," the group writes on its Web site. Group representatives could not be reached for comment.

Brady said, however, that research shows ELT students gain more knowledge and feel comfortable with the pace. Many "high-performing schools" have more than the standard 900 hours per year, she said.

Under ELT, Varnum Brook's school day would begin at 7:50 a.m. and end at 3:35 p.m. -- changed from its current 8:55 a.m.-3:15 p.m. schedule. Each ELT school must determine focus subjects based on student needs. Varnum Brook is interested in boosting learning time for science, Brady said.

Parents Against Expanded Learning Time believes the state funds will provide less than half of the cost required to implement the initiative and taxpayers would end up filling the gap. The enrichment offerings will be provided mostly by volunteers, the group claims.

Brady said, however, the funding is sufficient to cover all the cost, including teachers' pay and professional development. After one year, the district would assess the results and can reapply. The state has repeatedly renewed the grant for the same schools, she said.

"We would not take any more money from the district's operating budget," Brady said.

For more information on ELT, visit http://www.mass 2020.org/elt.html and http://nmiddlesex.mec.edu/%7EHPAGEVBES/elt.html.

Parents Against Expanded Learning Time's Web site is http://paelt.windyoaks.com/.

From Pepperell Free Press (August 29, 2008)

Right to 'opt out' may kill ELT grant

By Don Eriksson 
Staff Writer
Nashoba Publishing

Article Launched:08/29/2008 08:38:12 AM EDT

TOWNSEND -- The Expanded Learning Time (ELT) initiative proposed for Pepperell's Varnum Brook Elementary School, which has become a hot topic over the past weeks, may not even happen, North Middlesex Regional School District Superintendent Dr. Maureen Marshall said this week.

Marshall, who has become a surrogate lightning rod for anti-ELT parents, delivered that message in both a private press conference last week and in a meeting with parents at Nissitissit Middle School last Monday afternoon.

She said if a grant request is refused by the former Department of Education (now called the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education), it is because the district has insisted from the outset on the right of its parents to opt out of the extended elementary school day program.

The grant would bring in $1,300 per Varnum Brook Elementary School student to fund 300 hours of extended learning time over the school year. Classes would run from 7:35 a.m. to after 3:35 p.m., with studies that are a mix of core curriculum and enrichments that could be provided by non-staff members.

A parent group -- Parents Against Expanded Learning Time (PAELT) -- has been formed to fight the proposal. Opposition is based on the mandatory nature of the program and the inability to opt out if it is initiated. Many feel after-school sports and family activities are equally important to school study hours.

Many were present Monday afternoon as were several parents who like the idea.

Opponents contend there hadn't been enough available information on the planning process. Marshall agreed to pursue establishment of an e-mail contact list with all parents and emphasized that the new telephone system allowing her to instantly leave voice messages on all parent's phones is about to be activated.

School Committee chairman Arnold Silva said the school committee had held more than three open sessions in which ELT had been discussed.

"Dr. Marshall and her staff do go out of the way for feedback. If we had this many participants at meetings (the word would get out)," he said. "The last time it happened was when teachers were to strike. The newspaper is not the best source. They continually misquote and misrepresent facts."

"We've heard your concerns. They have some legitimate issues," Marshall said. "The grant (directive) says the entire Varnum Brook School should do it. We said we wouldn't pursue it unless parents had a choice.

"The Department of Education has told me they're interested in our interest in the program but because the district indicates no participation without choice, I'm not sure it will fly," she said.

Marshall emphasized that ELT was being looked at because the district received a grant to do so. It was not a grant to establish the program.

"I think you believe we're going ahead anyway," Marshall said. "That is not true."

Despite her update, she was asked 15 questions about ELT formulated prior to the meeting by PAELT. One of them asked why risk establishing such a questionable experiment.

"To look at possibilities for the school system. It isn't me unilaterally, but it's to see if this is an opportunity for our children," Marhsall said. "My job is to look at potential resources. We wanted at least to ask questions (about ELT). If we don't ask or struggle, I believe our kids lose out."

For example, Marshall said, the district has a planning grant for the gifted and talented program. It also has a $1 million federal grant request to restructure the high school.

"There is a cadre of parents against ELT. Another group really loves the idea. As the superintendent, I need to work with parents and I'm looking forward to it."

Marshall said new Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester's "whole reason for being" is ELT.

"That's what he believes and that's why he came (to Massachusetts). I'm convinced ELT grants are supported by the Board of Education, by legislators, and it's in the governor's budget," Marshall said. "The conversation is here to stay throughout the state."

From Pepperell Free Press (August 15, 2008)

Let parents make the choice on Extended Learning time

Article Launched: 08/15/2008 08:37:25 AM EDT

Dear Dr. Marshall:

Give the taxpayers a vote! I am appalled that the Extended Learning Initiative grant is being rammed down parents' throats!

It is quite evident that you feel you should be making the decision as to what kinds of extracurricular and enrichment activities my child attends or does not attend. Up until now, enrichment activities have occurred after school hours and have been a family's choice.

You are obligated to hear from each and every parent (as they so choose) as to whether or not they would like their child to be away from them to attend two additional hours of school beyond the state education frameworks. This is a critical matter.

This isn't a change in the lunch menu that you are going to implement. A lot of parents have made career changes to allow them to be home with their children so they may bond with their children and choose what activities they participate in. You are infringing on parents' rights to choose what is best for their children. Where is the partnership?

Dr. Marshall, a lot of people in the community do not know what the Extended Learning Initiative is, and with something so important you need to inform parents. I suggest you send home hard-copy letters to all the families that will be effected by this, explaining what it is and ask this very simple question, "Do you want your son or daughter to participate in the Extended Learning Initiative Grant, Yes or No?" and return it to the school.

This information could be easily distributed with the emergency cards and other papers that come home the first days of school. That is, if you truly want to know what parents/taxpayers want for their children.



Parent and taxpayer

From Pepperell Free Press (August 15, 2008)

Parents banding together to oppose longer school hours

By Don Eriksson
Nashoba Publishing
Article Launched:08/15/2008 05:28:11 PM EDT

Staff Writer

PEPPERELL -- A group of parents, predominantly mothers from Pepperell, Townsend and Ashby, are opposing the North Middlesex Regional School District's pursuit of state grant money to initiate Expanded Learning Time (ELT) in Varnum Brook Elementary School (VBES).

A growing number of parents -- coordinated by John and Fiona Anderson, of Pepperell, through their Web site, www.windyoaks.com -- met in Lawrence Library on Aug. 6 as members of Parents Against Expanded Learning Time (or PAELT, pronounced 'pelt') which is generating a citizens' petition to nip ELT progress in the bud.

PAELT parents resent what they feel is a program, fostered by Gov. Deval Patrick's administration and the Department of Education, that is being forced onto district parents without recourse, now that the school district administration has accepted state money to do a feasibility study.

The group plans to meet with School Superintendent Dr. Maureen Marshall on Aug. 28. Citizens' petitions are asked to be turned in by Aug. 22 to John Anderson, Windy Oaks, 34B Elm Street, Pepperell, or by calling (978) 842-4589.

Department of Education funding would bring $1,300 per student to the district, while ELT would extend the VBES school day from 7:35 a.m. to 3:35 p.m., adding about 300 hours -- the equivalent of 46 days -- to the school year.

The extra study is split between core curriculum and "enrichment," which involves collaboration with non-school volunteers. A full explanation of the program and school district rationale for pursuing it was published in the July 18 edition of the Pepperell Free Press (see www.nashobapub.com).

Many of those at last week's meeting expressed disenchantment with the lack of information provided by the school district other than a survey form sent home with children. ELT, they contend, is better suited for urban environments.

The program, however, is still in the feasibility phase. Some information about ELT -- the "Massachusetts 2020 Education Opportunity" -- is available on the VBES Web site at nmiddlesex.mec.edu then follow the link to view the ELT presentation.

PAELT figures the state funds will provide $3.56 per hour of the $8.55 per-hour, per-student cost of educating a NMRSD elementary student.

Anderson said that, according to information from the school district, the town will not be asked to fund ELT, but other documents at Mass 2020 Education Opportunity and the education department say funding falls to the school budget when the grant runs out after one or two years. PAELT is contacting the Finance Committee about this.

"This is not an informational meeting and not a gripe session," Hillary Tumber said at the outset. "We're assuming everyone is like-minded and we want our voices heard."

Fiona Anderson was one who objected to not being able to see her daughter participate in non-school afternoon activities, some of which are in New Hampshire, if ELT is adopted.

"I quit a professional career to stay home for the kids and I've seen the good results," she said. "I don't want my kids to drop out (of school because of this). They aren't going to change the program for one child."

Anderson's Web site includes a series of e-mails between herself and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Deborah Brady, who provided answers to a series of questions that PAELT participants felt were not sufficient. They are summarized as follows:

Q. Can parents withdraw their children after 2:30 p.m. or pull them from 'enrichment' and additional recess?

A. If VBES extends time, parents have the option of going to Squannacook Elementary School, but the grant doesn't allow students to opt out.

Q. What curriculum would be added and do parents have a choice in what their children do or do not study in the additional time?

A. Offerings are based on a survey of student interests. The district is looking at Renzulli software (based on the program for the gifted and talented) to allow students to create their own projects based on their talents and interests.

Q. Will parents be able to continue to do homework with their kids, so they know where they are struggling -- particularly if based on a disability -- or will the school take over homework? Will a specialist be hired for the disabled?

A. I'm not sure what you're asking regarding special needs. Children have extraordinary support from home and it is hoped the schools also support the child. If not, schools are remiss. You (Anderson) represent an important value held by families and we need to honor them.

Q. What happens to kids with special needs, or those with a disability that qualifies then only for a 504? One of my children wears a hearing aid and removes it after school to do homework in quiet.

A. Your concern is understood because you're saying you can provide your child with something the school doesn't.

Q. Will the public be able to vote on ELT or is it already wrapped into the budget?

A. If administrators feel the community is against ELT, the grant will not be continued. There is no vote, however we considered this to offer additional opportunities to students.

Q. How are kids who sleep 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. supposed to cope with less sleep? They would be on the bus at either 6:45 a.m. or 7:15 a.m.?

A. The schedule was an attempt to make 300 hours look less overwhelming.

Q. How are parents supposed to get their kids to their current extracurricular activities?

A. After school activities could shift times if most students had a different schedule.

Q. What is "literacy?" There are 45 minutes for social studies/science then another recess, which I'd rather the kids do at home, then 45 minutes of "enrichment." What is "enrichment?" We can't determine if this is time well spent if we don't know what it involves.

A. The schedule was intended to allay fears and I think it added some. Literacy includes English language arts -- reading, writing, spelling, grammar, research, presentations. Yes, "enrichment" is quite vague. Some schools have six-week or quarter-year modules with choices for students that could include theater, music, lego/logo, hands-on science, publishing a literary journal, gymnastics, etc.

Ellen Markham, who had been one of the two or three people present for a public information session regarding the program, described the meeting as "a waste of my time. Basically, they said it is their obligation to get the money the state is offering."

From Pepperell Free Press (August 1, 2008)

What kind of ELT schooling do we get for $3.60 per hour?

Article Launched: 08/01/2008 08:37:14 AM EDT

There has been a fair bit of noise lately about Varnum Brook School applying for a state grant to implement Extended Learning Time. The per-pupil gain to our budget has been reported as $1,300.

I've done the math: At 2007 per-pupil expenditure levels we pay $8.55 per pupil per hour for their time in school. That $1,300 gets us two additional hours of school at the rate of $3.60 per hour per pupil. What are they planning to provide at the rate of $3.60 per hour, when the rest of the day costs us $8.55?

I know I am not the only mom in Pepperell who ditched a professional career with great potential in order to help with homework and find additional activities for the kids based on their own interests. These are not all expensive; one of my children sings with the church choir and receives top-notch (graded) music instruction. I have been told that providers of activities will adjust their schedules once we move to an extended day, but with activities in Groton and Nashua this is just not going to happen. In addition, when their day has to start at 6 a.m. in order to make the new bus times, they won't have the energy for after-school activities after 4.

I think the community needs to be aware that this is not going to be put to a vote; the administration decides.

Several of us concerned parents are planning to meet at 4 p.m. on Aug. 6 at the Lawrence Library meeting room, and anyone who wishes to have a discussion about how best to voice our concerns is welcome. This is not an official meeting organized by the school, but is simply a discussion forum for some of us who have been corresponding via e-mail about Extended Learning Time.



From Pepperell Free Press (June 13, 2008)

Is ELT right for schools?

Article Launched: 06/13/2008

I have been a resident of Pepperell for nearly ten years, and am the parent of five young children.  My wife has been especially supportive of the Pepperell public schools by serving as a volunteer in several different capacities.  But I am very discouraged by the clearly apparent determination of our district administrators to implement a new and harmful program that simply does not fit in the town Pepperell.  The program is euphemistically referred to as ELT—Extended Learning Time, but is more appropriately named LTH—Less Time at Home.
This state-sponsored program aims to increase the school year by 300 hours, or about two extra hours per day, without providing funding required for additional teaching resources.  Essentially, this program increases the duration of each school day without improving the quality of teaching.  It’s just more—more of the same, which means only one thing—less time at home with brothers, sisters, and parents; less time to participate in after school activities; less time to do homework; less time to enjoy life, friends, and the outdoors, and of course less time for a good night’s sleep.
I applaud any sincere effort to improve our schools, but history frowns on severely misdirected enthusiasm.  LTH programs are much better suited to urban or very low income school districts where there is a real need to get delinquent kids off the streets, and where any improvement—whatever the cost to society or family—is better than the status quo.
I also encourage parents to learn about the details of this program from one of its most ardent supporters: Massachusetts 2020 (at mass2020.org).  You will find that the success of this program positively hinges on the ability of school administrators to secure long-term partnerships with businesses and non-profits to provide both financial assistance and volunteer teaching resources.  It is simply unwise to bank the success of our schools on the expectation of securing such unprecedented involvement in the suburban setting of Pepperell.  This is especially worrisome when you consider that our district and school administrators have absolutely no experience and no proven track record for forming such partnerships.
It is in all of our best interests to become educated about the true nature of this program from reliable sources.  The well-being of our children is at stake.