August 31, 2010; Source: San Francisco Chronicle | When school bells ring in Oakland at 2 p.m., signaling the end of classes for the day, students in two middle schools still have another three hours to go before they’re dismissed. Under an experiment that’s getting help from Citizen Schools, a national nonprofit, officials are hoping the nine hour day will lead to improved test scores in two schools that are among the worst performers in the state.

Keeping schools open an extra three hours a day doesn’t come cheap. It will cost the East Oakland school district about $2,400 a year for each of the 270 students in the two participating schools. The Oakland Tribune reports that the federal government will underwrite about two-thirds of those costs for the next three years.

Citizen Schools, whose staff members take over at the end of the traditional school day to offer academics, hands-on activities and apprenticeships with local professionals, is paying the balance of the program using money it raises from private sources and teaching fellowships through the publicly funded AmeriCorps program. Citizen Schools, which has been in operation since 1995, currently provides after-school programs for low-income students at 37 school sites across the country.

The Tribune reports that a program in Boston, similar to the one just getting underway in Oakland, led to a doubling of proficiency rates within the first few years. Joe Ross, executive director of Citizen Schools California, has high hopes for the Oakland project. “I anticipate in one year we’ll see impact . . . We have a lot of confidence we can do this in other places.” That will really be something to ring the bell about.—Bruce Trachtenberg