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Chat transcript with Chris Gabrieli

Chris Gabrieli, a venture capitalist who ran for governor in 2006, chatted with Boston.com readers about extended school days in Massachusetts, a pilot project his nonprofit organization helped start.

chatguest1: Hi, this is Chris Gabrieli. I'll be chatting for the next hour about Massachusetts' first-in-the-nation initiative to redesign and expand the school day.
dr__nick: Hey Chris, I voted for you in the governor's race! Question about longer school days: Isn't this just about parents wanting state-funded child-care so they can work later?
Chris_Gabrieli: Thanks for the vote. I do think that a school day that matches the work day makes a lot of difference for working families but the big driver of this effort is education. Period. We have a lot of students not gaining the skills they need and it is pretty clear that school does not offer enough time to get that job done. And that's how we expect to be measured. The child care benefit and the smart idea of keeping kids off the streets and out of trouble are valuable extras.
jorge_posada: Chris, I think it's more important to alter the curriculum than extend students' school days. We need to teach increased cultural awareness and personal finance for a globalized market. Do you agree?
Chris_Gabrieli: I agree that we need to consider adding things such as those you suggest. But without adding time - how would we do that? Cut math? Reading? I think kids need more skills and competency than ever - that's why we need more time.
rickylamb: What are the biggest challenges of the initiative to expand the school day across Massachusetts?
Chris_Gabrieli: The biggest challenge is probably just the challenge of change. As the Globe Magazine article yesterday showed so well, when schools try this they find it works for everybody involved - students, teachers, parents and communities. But we all are slow to change as we are used to our old routines. So getting people to take the plunge, always a bit into the unknown even though we have some great models now is the biggest challenge. I might add that includes the policy makers responsible for funding decisions - they have to decide to make these resources available, not just more unrestricted money. We are lucky to have a Legislature and now a Governor who have made this a priority.
MIAA: How do you see high school athletics being affected by a longer school day? Also, what do you say to families where the high school student needs to work after school to simply make ends meat and pay the bills? Thank you.
Chris_Gabrieli: Important questions. Athletics and physical activity are important parts of youth development, in my experience and view. I think there can and should be enough time for both school and sports. It will mean some juggling of existing schedules but it is important to have plenty of both.
Chris_Gabrieli: On jobs, I know that about half of all high school students work - many because they have to help their families out. Again, I think we can have both enough (that is, more) school and jobs. In fact, some of the most exciting efforts I have seen include work as part of education - I would like to see more young people pursuing job skills that will increase their employability.
Chris_Gabrieli: We have no high schools in the first ten schools that started the longer day this past Fall. But we have 8 planning for 2008 and I think we will all learn a lot together about how to solve these challenges.
rickylamb: How have you been able to convince teacher unions to work a longer school day?
Chris_Gabrieli: We have not had to "convince" them. It has been great to see that both of the statewide unions, the MTA and AFT-Massachusetts, have embraced the idea as part of their proposals for school improvement. In fact, the MTA bimonthly magazine has a great cover article on how well ELT is going in one of the Fall RIver schools.
hutu: hey chris, what are your plans now that you're not governor?
Chris_Gabrieli: I am back doing what I was doing before - working with a great team at Massachusetts 2020 and with many collaborators across the state to try to really make a difference on education.
Chris_Gabrieli: I appreciate, I might add, that the Governor has been very gracious in totally embracing this work and helping make it happen.
Chris_Gabrieli: I do not believe you have to be an elected official to help "change the world." In fact, maybe it is easier from the outside.
hi: I am a citizen of Revere, with my daughter in Middle School. She told me Revere is one of those communities whose high school will be attempting extended days in 2008. Is this true?
Chris_Gabrieli: Yes. Revere has received planning money to look at several schools, including their high school, possibly becoming Expanded Learning Time schools in the Fall of 2008.
grover: Hi Chris. While I think this initiative is a good first step in the continuing improvement of our education system, there are still other issues that need to be addressed. For example, while we expect more and more from our teachers, the expectations of parents is less and less every year. Schools now feed kids 2 meals a day, and constantly have to put up with disruptive students that come from often deplorable home situations. The only option for many of these schools is to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to send these students to an alternative setting. What are your feelings about modifying policies and/or laws to help (mostly urban) school districts save money, so that they can truly direct more funding toward important initiatives such as an expanded school day?
Chris_Gabrieli: I think this is why we need to see schools as having a bigger agenda and needing more time. There are now so many families where both parents work long hours or where there is only one parent around. Those families cannot do what middle class families pay a lot to do - supplement school with tutoring and arts and music and sports and enrichment etc. I think we would be better off giving all of the students more of the good stuff in the most efficient place possible - the school where they already are.
Dunlop: Chris, what do you think of shifting the start of school to 9AM for high schoolers? Many studies on high school age kids require much more sleep as they enter their teenage years. Also, the studies found that high schoolers are far more attuned to class exercises later in the day than earlier.
Chris_Gabrieli: Great point. As part of looking at changed schedules, we should try to get high schoolers on a more sensible schedule for their natural biological rhythms. Time in the seat is no use if they are asleep or low-attention. There are a lot of issues around this - especially busing - but the stakes are too high to not start making that change.
Caitrin: What type of feedback have you received from parents and students already enrolled in schools with an extended day?
Chris_Gabrieli: Check out yesterday's Boston Globe Magazine cover article! Great feedback. We have surveyed parents and over 3/4 think it is making a significant positive difference for their children's education. Almost 80% think it should spread to their schools.
Chris_Gabrieli: Students like it more than people expect - witness the Globe magazine's coverage highlighting this as a surprise. One reason is that every school has implemented a balanced approach - more time on academics but also more time for enrichment. The chance to get a class period a day of an elective enrichment - drama or music or arts or sports, cooking or martial arts or robotics or school newspaper or whatever - is very attractive to students.
Chris_Gabrieli: The other cool thing has been to hear students say, as they have repeatedly to me when I visit, "this year teachers answer my questions." These students say that in the past teachers would say ask me later but I can't answer that now. And the students really appreciate that difference.
rick: chris, unfortunately the public school system has been a slave to the MCAS. It is undeniable that teachers now teach to the test. I think that this effort to extend the school day is really an attempt to increase scores. Unfortunately, you are part of the problem not the solution. Can you deny that you don't only want 'skills' to improved, but also MCAS scores.
Chris_Gabrieli: The MCAS measures skills in math and English (and now science). Yes, disappointing performance by many students has caused many schools to focus more on these skills. And yes, more time allows these schools to do more hear. But it is also allowing these schools to put back in the day the subjects, such as foreign languages, history, social studies and arts - that have been squeezed out recently. And it allows decent time for recess, lunch and enrichment. Kids need the skills but they also need a "whole child" approach that more time allows.
joey_B: Will all students and teachers be required to do extended learning, or is it more of an extra thing for students to boost their transcript for college?
Chris_Gabrieli: All students at Expanded Learning Time schools attend for the added time - 25% more time. Some, but not all, teachers do so and generally it has been voluntary for them. Some have obligations or preferences that prevent them and that's OK. Also, schools have partnered with community based organizations to bring in exciting enrichment activities and other caring adults into the school day.
Caitrin: Your pilot program seems to focus on urban schools -- Boston, Fall River, Worcester etc. How will the longer school day be adapted for suburban districts?
Chris_Gabrieli: The Expanded Learning Time program is a voluntary one - only districts and schools that want to apply are in the program and supported by the state to pursue their plans. In the first year, five cities - Boston, Cambridge, Worcester, Malden and Fall River - were the participants. For 2007 and 2008, there are many more cities but also plenty of towns, some quite suburban, in the mix. The biggest difference there is that there are often somewhat more parents who have already enrolled their kids in after-school programs or activities. Some much prefer the potential school offering but some worry that the longer day may impinge on their current activities. My sense is that some suburban schools will try this and love the benefits, both academically and for enrichment. I don't know a single middle class parent who does not spend a lot of time and money on getting more for their kids than schools now offer. Why not have schools do more?
newton: The New York Times had an article about Newton students that portrayed them (I thought) as overworked, and obsessed (and pressured) to succeed. Do you worry that by turning school into a 7-5 job we're putting too much stress on our kids? Won't this intense workaholism negatively affect them in adulthood?
Chris_Gabrieli: Great point. I agree that there is a small group of upper middle class kids who have the opposite problem of most kids - they have too intense a schedule already. Some of this is because they try to supplement school with so many activities outside of school. ALso, they go home with a ton of homework. I think they would be better off with more of those activities built into the day and more of the homework done at school with homework help or tutoring available on the spot from a qualified teacher. That is what we are seeing at our pioneering ELT schools.
Tutor_in_MA: I am a mid career changer just entering the education field. I tutor after school and on the face of it a longer school day makes a great deal of sense to me as someone who has taught in three different school districts with three very different student populations here in Massachusetts. However, I am very concerned that a longer school day will encourage less meaningful work during the regular school day because teachers and students may be tempted to postpone work until later.. I hear " I can do this later", or" I can catch up later" as an excuse to put off what might have been etc...
Chris_Gabrieli: Love to hear more about what you have seen in those schools that makes you positive on the idea.
Chris_Gabrieli: I certainly agree that more time alone can be OK, good or wasted. It all depends on how it is used. But at our first ten schools, I would say it is being well used including getting more done during the day than pushed back to the evenings at home.
D: The extended day helps students learn by granting them additional class time. Do you have any plans to better prepare/train teachers?
Chris_Gabrieli: All of the Expanded Learning Time schools use the greater time for both students and teachers. For teachers, they build in more time for professional development and common planning time. It has really helped as teachers do need more time to work together, to improve their instruction and to develop.
friday: Chris, shouldn't kids have more of a choice in their curriculum? I mean, if my son is a darn good surfer and wants to make a career in the surfing industry, should he get credit for the tournaments he attends? We all have different talents, and we should push our kids toward what they're good at, I think.
Chris_Gabrieli: I like electives for kids. And I agree that giving students more exposure to the real world is a good thing. Now credits for surfing tournaments sounds a bit extreme, dude, but we certainly need to be more imaginative, especially in high school, about how to keep kids excited and interested and how to smooth their paths to college and/or work.
Steve: Chris, have you ever taught?
Chris_Gabrieli: Never been a teacher in a K-12 class room. Have spent a lot of time in schools (and have five kids!!!) but I have never had the privilege and challenge of classroom teaching.
ahh: I understand that longer days benefit the kids, but honestly, I have a hard enough time working for 9 hours a day, I don't think it's fair to make kids go to school for that long. When do they get the time to be kids?
Chris_Gabrieli: ELT school students are going to school for about 8 hours a day. On 180 days of the year. I agree kids need to be kids - this schedule leaves them half of the days of the year with no school and more than half of the time on the days they go.
Chris_Gabrieli: Plus, the ELT schools build in more time for recess, for electives and for other opportunities for the whole child to develop. It's not just more classroom time.
Chris_Gabrieli: Lastly, the sad fact is that our kids spend outrageously large amounts of time watching TV or other low-quality uses of their time.
Horace_Mann: You are right to note real benefits for mixing school and work at the high school level for most students. Do you agree that every student should create a career plan with career development
Chris_Gabrieli: Yes. We need to do a lot more to get our students ready for college or work. And to help them understand the pathways through that. Such career and life planning is a good example of something that should be part of the curriculum and to do so can only happen with more time - it cannot be instead of the skills they need to pursue those careers.
Matt33: Chris, I want to applaud you on this initiative. I recently relocated to Connecticut for work, but hope that the extended school hours becomes a national standard by the time my two year old enters the public school system. I've been telling my wife for years that this needs to happen. Our kid and future leaders are falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to education. Thanks for taking the lead role in this. Good Luck to you in the future and I hope we see this initiated nationwide.
Chris_Gabrieli: Thanks! There is a lot of growing interest in this across the nation. In fact, the CT Governor has been talking about it as has your Commissioner of Ed. You are right to take the global view - our kids will truly be competing globally and we have fallen behind where we once led the world on educational achievement.
Steve: The reason I ask is that I have taught high school in 4 different schools... 1 alternative, 1 charter, 1 regular high school, and 1 exam based high school. Two of the high schools had days that were 30 minutes longer than I am currently teaching and I can say with confidence that more time in the class does not mean more learning. The class periods that I have now are roughly 48 minutes long and they are well suited to cover the required material. From my experience, anything longer than 48 minutes, and students start to loose focus.
Chris_Gabrieli: Your point of view is legitimate and deserves my respect. So do the points of view of dozens of teachers at the ten schools in MA that have implemented this and to whom the Globe reporter for yesterday's magazine cover article spoke. And they do see gains.
Chris_Gabrieli: One key point is - gotta have the teachers involved in figuring it out. Just adding x minutes only helps some. Depends on how you use the time.
Chris_Gabrieli: Our schools don't just add a few minutes. They redesign the whole day to take advantage of more time. I think that makes a big difference.
WarrenGoldstein: Isn't the expanded day too expensive for most communities?
Chris_Gabrieli: It costs about 15% more to get 25-30% more time. The state is paying because despite real increases in educational spending over the last 25 years, our educational gains have been very modest.
Chris_Gabrieli: This new approach must prove itself worthy but if it does, it will be well worth the difference.
eltfan: Chris, what can average citizens do to support longer school days?
Chris_Gabrieli: Great question. One thing is to push to have your community consider it. Many communities - 29 districts in all across the state - are looking at this but many others aren't. Why not? Do they really think they cover everything their students need and do it for all of them?
Chris_Gabrieli: If you want more information or to get involved, come to our Web site - www.mass2020.org.
sharev: Chris, I love this idea. Longer school days are what is needed for our children to succeed today. I live in Melrose and we are struggling to keep the budget balanced without cutting jobs and keeping classes sizes as small as possible. My question is, how is this funded (longer school hours mean more heating costs, etc.)
Chris_Gabrieli: The state provides $1300 per student per year for every student in an ELT school whose plan was approved by the state Department of Education.
brooklinemom: Do the longer hours in your ELT schools apply to all grades in these schools? In Brookline, we have K-8 primary schools and while eighth graders could handle a longer school day, I wonder about the K and 1 kids?
Chris_Gabrieli: It does cover all of them. We have a lot of younger kids in the first cohort of schools and it has worked out very well for them. Must be done appropriately - at one school, they now have two recesses and one nap for the pre-K students! But the parents and teachers of the youngest students have been very pleased.
sharev: My concern is if a city signs up for this and the added $1300 per student per year isn't enough to pay for all the added expenses. What happens then? Since I've moved to Melrose, we've already closed two grammar schools.
Chris_Gabrieli: It has proven enough so far and we (Mass 2020, Legislature, Governor, Commissioner and DOE) are all paying close attention to this. This should not squeeze out other good things.
Steve: Chris, if you want to improve education, you need to reduce class size, not make the day longer. That is it... nothing more.
Chris_Gabrieli: Steve - that is a point of view. Some efforts to do that - California - have not really worked out. And more time allows for more individualized instruction - I see ELT schools using more time to break up students into small groups by skill level and to allow time for tutoring.
Chris_Gabrieli: But I do not think it is one or the other. Class size has to be sensible, especially in earlier grades. And there has to be enough time. We need both and I support both.
Chris_Gabrieli: Thanks for all of the great questions and the fair challenges. We need to continue to innovate and work hard to make schools work so that all of our kids have the skills they need to succeed and the opportunity to become well-rounded citizens of the 21st Century.
Chris_Gabrieli: Thanks for your interest!
Chris_Gabrieli: See ya!

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