Bridging the Opportunity Divide

When a Public High School Experiments With the Charter Model, Here’s What Happens

October 13, 2014
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When a Public High School Experiments With the Charter Model, Here’s What Happens
Public schools are borrowing ideas from charter schools, like longer school days. Rupert Ganzer/Flickr
Does more time in the classroom improve grades and test scores?

At the Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wash., some students go to school from 7:20 a.m. to 5 p.m., including Saturdays and throughout summer. If this intense amount of schooling sounds familiar, that’s because there are charter schools across the country that are already doing this with their students in order to prepare them for college. So what’s notable about this schedule?

It’s going on at a public high school.

As Al Jazeera America reports, six years ago, Lincoln High School principal Pat Erwin decided to apply charter school methods to his own public school, launching the Lincoln Center High School for 350 of the school’s 1,500 students.

Besides the long and rigorous school hours, students in the program must take honors and AP level courses in every subject — from history to math. Students must also participate in clubs or sports.

“It adds up to 540 hours of extra academic support, enrichment and teacher contact,” Erwin says.

MORE: This 6-Year High School Challenges Everything We Thought We Knew About American Education

The extended hours certainly made a difference. According to Al Jazeera America, 95 percent of the senior class graduated from charter portion of the school, compared to only 61 percent of the larger Lincoln student population. Additionally, 82 percent of the first Lincoln Center senior class were accepted into two or four-year colleges, receiving almost $2 million in scholarships, the school says.

Based upon its success, the principal will be applying a modified extended-day approach to the entire student body. Every student will now be required to take honors classes and attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 3:05 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and Fridays at the former regular time of 2:05 p.m.  The extra hour is meant for homework help and academic advising.

Al Jazeera America notes, however, that the expanded Lincoln Center model is expensive and controversial and has drawn opposition from staff members.

However, many feel that this approach is what’s best for the students. Although the students and teachers will be in school for longer hours, this experiment could help close the achievement gap for Lincoln’s mostly low-income student population (about 82 percent qualifying for free or reduced-priced meals).

“Our goal in all of this is to see your child graduate from high school and be prepared for college, work, or service to their country,” says Erwin in a statement. “We have seen rising levels of success over the years and by providing more support, more time, greater access to the best teachers in the state, we will see these desired results.”

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