Next fall, public school students in Fall River and Lawrence, Massachusetts will see longer school days. There will be an additional 300 hours in their year. Both superintendents and critics agree: more time in the classroom must mean better student engagement.

“Adding meaningful school hours” is how U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan describes this effort. Fall River Superintendent Meg Mayo-Brown was in Washington DC for the announcement.

“We’re targeting the middle grades because that’s where we see the largest achievement gap," Mayo-Brown says. Students in grades 6-8 will be presented with new curricula next fall, not just longer periods of the same old subjects.

“It can’t just be more of the same. It can’t just be more math, more English/language arts, more science. It’s really an opportunity to be able to target student interest and talent, to offer enrichment courses ranging from forensics to engineering to more drama, more music and art that really through the course of time has been put on the back burner," Mayo-Brown says.

The schools will use a mix of grants and federal and state funding to cover the cost of adding hours of instruction and enrichment. The difficulty will lie in designing curricula that will also improve academic achievement, according to Jeff Howard, an education reform advocate at the Efficacy Institute in Waltham.

“We need more time with kids. But if we keep doing the same kinds of things in school that we’ve been doing. If we operate with the same beliefs, if we operate with the same lack of use of data and lack of sort of professional innovation within classrooms, we’re just going to have kids being bored longer," Howard says.

Both Howard and Mayo-Brown say they’re hopeful the longer hours in Lawrence and Fall River will lead to achievement because there are many public school districts across the country that have already paved the way. Massachusetts is one of five states to participate in this new collaboration between state officials, the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning.