Time Matters Blog

More of a Good Thing: School As a Stabilizing Force

I always say that the best part of my work at NCTL is when I visit schools. There is no better feeling—for me, anyhow—than to walk into a school and see students and teachers engaged in active learning. Those moments when you can see kids’ gears turning, when you sense that everyone in the room wants to do their best, is what those of us who advocate for stronger schools imagine is our core objective. In the day-to-day debates about what might be the “right” ways to educate children and what conditions are necessary to ensure optimal teaching and learning, the noise of dissention and competing agendas often drowns out what really matters. And it is what is taking place in these classrooms that is the ultimate measure of success.

I must admit, though, that school visits sometimes produce a converse effect instead, situations where it can be jarring coming to grips with just how steep the hill is to achieve quality teaching and learning. Certainly, this was my experience this past week during my visit to a school in Lawrence, Mass., a school that serves an overwhelmingly poor student body. The most profound moment came when I listened in on a discussion among eighth-grade teachers about the various challenges that certain students were dealing with and the steps the teachers would take to help resolve these challenges. For the sake of students’ privacy, I won’t give too much detail, but suffice it to say that of the students that were discussed while I was in the room, one faced a severe medical issue—the school nurse spoke directly to the teachers in this case—another was teetering on the brink of homelessness, and another exhibited severe behavior problems.

As I sat there and tried to take in all that the students (and, in turn, their teachers) had to manage on a daily basis, the inevitable question arose in my mind: “How can these children who have so much stacked against them be expected to learn anything or their teachers to reach them?”  Imagine a child who does not know for sure where she will be living the next day trying to focus on interpreting a poem by Langston Hughes or understanding different types of heat energy or reducing fractions. These academic pursuits—even as they constitute the foundation of skills and knowledge one needs to navigate through the modern world—seem like luxuries compared with what is likely occupying the minds of these youngsters.

And, yet, it also occurred to me that the true dynamic can be quite the opposite. For children whose lives are ruptured by forces outside their control, school can be the most secure and functional thing they know. Not only are they generally safe inside the walls of the school, but, equally important, they can also find a sense of self-worth. Having the opportunity to demonstrate what they know and can do in the context of class can give them the locus of influence that they lack outside of school.

Within the painful circumstances that are many children’s lives, an expanded schedule is thus vital for two reasons. First, the more time they spend in the safe and supportive confines of school, the less time they will have to deal with the uncertainty that disrupts the rest of their lives. Second, for children who have to overcome such enormous challenges to their physical or mental health, the act of learning simply takes longer.

So, I guess what might be so heartening to me as I walk through classrooms that have uplifted the lives (and, we hope, prospects) of their students who confront so many out-of-school challenges is actually nothing compared to how good it makes the students themselves feel.  And this might be why you’ll often find students in expanded-time schools say simply, “More please.”

Turnarounds and Time

Today's blog was published on The Center on School Turnaround's blog on November, 17, 2014.

Until 2009, the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) Program had been a comparatively modest program within Title I. However, a boost in base funding to $546 million—along with a one-time infusion of $3 billion from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—cast SIG in a new role as the de facto leader in the field of whole-school redesign. So, when the U.S. Department of Education (USED) identified “increased learning time” as a core component of the turnaround process, the issue of expanding the school day and year took center stage.

The fact that the USED held out “more time” as a high-impact practice of strong schools is not surprising. Research from Harvard economist Roland Fryer, among others, has found that a schedule with substantially more annual hours than the norm is strongly associated with higher student outcomes. (Specifically, Fryer and his colleague identified that instructional time of at least 300 more hours than the conventional calendar is one of the strongest predictors of higher achievement, along with high-dosage tutoring, consistent feedback to teachers, use of data, and high expectations). But having a longer day and/or year is not just a matter of providing students more “time on task”; an expanded schedule can actually catalyze the implementation of other essential elements of effective schools, like robust instructional practices and the systematic use of data. The 2011 report Time Well Spent, released by our organization, the National Center on Time and Learning (NCTL), describes well how the best schools harness the opportunities that more time affords to generate higher-quality education overall.

Unfortunately, the first couple rounds the SIG guidance regarding increased learning time (ILT) was somewhat vague on implementation, and anecdotal evidence suggests that most schools interpreted the ILT provision by taking a remedial or compliance approach to focus on minimally meeting the requirement. That is, schools provided more time only for those students who were struggling the most in order to boost their proficiency in literacy and math or added more time without leveraging this opportunity to improve instruction. While this application of ILT is surely necessary, limiting the benefits of more time to a subset of students and activities, rather than expanding the school day for all students and teachers, means that more time cannot be leveraged to drive a much broader and deeper school turnaround.  On the other hand, for those SIG schools that did allow more learning time to drive a whole school redesign, like Orchard Gardens K – 8 in Boston, Massachusetts, and Tumbleweed Elementary in Palmdale, California, the results have been very positive.

Further, without a sufficient pre-implementation period built into the SIG turnaround process, grant recipient schools often lacked the ability to engage in the complex redesign planning that the effective harnessing of more time entails.

In September, the USED proposed a significant revision to the SIG program, which offers a remedy to these limitations (including addressing the pre-implementation period and incorporated a fifth turnaround model.) Currently, there are four—only two of which require the use of more time—but in the future states could be allowed develop their own models. The only requirement of this state-determined model is that it must include ILT. As the USED proposal reads, “The Department believes that the comprehensive implementation of ILT would provide essential support for key improvements in teaching and learning required by interventions consistent with the turnaround principles, and thus should be included in any State-determined intervention model approved by the Secretary.” Additionally, the proposed rule would increase the length of the grants from three to five years, allowing for a planning year at the beginning of the grants.

Already, five states—Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee—have demonstrated that a school redesign model, which embeds 300 more hours into the annual schedule, can have a marked impact. By participating in a months-long, carefully calibrated planning process that focuses on how to optimize time use toward improved student learning, the 30-plus schools that NCTL works with in our TIME Collaborative represent the cutting-edge of turnaround efforts. If the proposed new SIG rules are enacted, the number of schools that might follow in these schools’ footsteps can grow substantially. In turn, the positive impact of high-quality, expanded-time schools on student achievement promises to accelerate.

Seeing Is Believing

Today’s post is written by our Knowledge Management intern, Brittney Leibert. She is in her third year at Northeastern University where she is studying Psychology.

Last month, I had the privilege of joining the Massachusetts state team and several of our TIME Collaborative planning schools from Tennessee in our fall Seeing is Believing Tour, a showcase of six Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time (ELT) schools who have been thoughtful and effective in their implementation of ELT with the assistance of NCTL. Spanning three days, forty teachers and district personnel from Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) visited two to four of these schools and debriefed together to share lessons learned and next steps in the TIME Collaborative planning process.

It became clear through hours of classroom observations and discussions with students, principals, and district staff that what united these schools was not simply some formula for a longer school day, but rather a real commitment to the students and a firm belief that expanded time is a lever for educational equity. Over lunch on my group’s fourth and final school visit, one MNPS administrator took a moment to express to me how clarifying the experience had been for her—how in months of planning she had seen no description of ELT on paper that measured up to what she saw in our schools over the past two days. As someone far less familiar with the world of public education than the MNPS teachers and administrators who joined me, I can only begin to grasp how valuable it was to see these schools through an educator’s lens. But even for myself, an intern submerged regularly in work and discussion surrounding ELT implementation and the successes of more time, the tour drew together all that I knew about the work that goes into expanding the school day. It also illuminated the power of a dedicated leadership team to effect change.

Each visit afforded us a better picture of what ELT looks like in action as well as an opportunity to probe successful strategies for expanding time.  At the Wetherbee K-8 School in Lawrence, MA, a talkative student panel celebrated deep community partnerships and daily enrichments. In Wetherbee’s redesigned schedule, enrichments give teachers time for a weekly three-hour common planning block, which has strengthened vertical alignment and enabled time for special education and ELL teachers to collaborate with regular education teachers. McKinley Elementary in Revere, MA uses data from regular assessments for targeted instruction and interventions made possible by ELT, and has developed a popular dual-language program that added a new cohort of students this school year. At the Guilmette Elementary School in Lawrence, MA, a data coach works with staff to display and update age-appropriate data in every classroom and hallway (and even in the bathrooms!). And although students at A.C. Whelan Elementary School in Revere, MA have consistently outperformed the state in science on the MCAS, Principal Jamie Flynn and staff are working closely with a community partner to further strengthen science units this spring. “We have 100% buy-in in this staff that ELT is important and that it’s what’s best for the kids, and that’s what makes this work,” Flynn said.

In this work, I find myself in awe of the resoluteness of our staff and the schools we work with in their pursuit of high-quality instruction and educational equity. The commitment to ELT is appropriately driven by incremental successes. The classrooms we saw on the Seeing is Believing Tour represent just a microcosm of what is capable through expanded time, and allowing outside educators a glimpse of this, particularly in schools with similar student demographics, can be both grounding and inspiring; it reminds teachers of the potential for growth in low-income schools, and it equips them with the ideas and confidence to realize this potential in their own schools. If the lessons our MNPS visitors gleaned from this tour in any way inform the instruction in their schools, we can count another small success as we expand our work nationally.

Perhaps most empowering on this Seeing is Believing Tour was the openness with which principals shared some of the setbacks they have experienced while continuously expanding time for their students and trying to provide the highest educational support: at Whelan, the Instructional Leadership Team continues to make adjustments to its schedule in their sixth year of ELT implementation; McKinley has expanded enrichments and common planning time in an aged building lacking the makerspace; Wetherbee K-8 works to create meaningful, data-driven interventions for all students in a district experiencing high student mobility. Despite roadblocks, each school told a story of a student community performing better, encouraged by a staff striving to be better. “We have a mindset of continuous improvement,” said Lori Butterfield, principal of Guilmette Elementary. “It’s all about what’s best for the kids, not what’s easiest for the teachers. If it’s best for the kids, we have to do it,” said Ed Moccia, principal of McKinley.

 And that is something to believe in.

Victory is in the Classroom

Today’s blog is written by Michael Selkis, NCTL’s New York State Director, who reflects on his experience in expanded-time schools in New York.

Once, while on a school visit in Syracuse, a teacher in an expanded-time school asked a kindergarten class to compare an aspect of two books they were reading. Immediately, several five- year-old students raised their hands and one student confidently stated, “We need to look in the book for textual evidence.”  I almost fell out of my chair!

I once had a mentor who used to tell me over and over that when trying to support children and schools that “Victory is in the Classroom”.  I always understood what she was saying; I just never fully realized the implications of that statement - until now. As NCTL’s New York State Director I have many opportunities to travel the state working with many Expanded Learning Time schools in New York City, Yonkers, Rochester, and Syracuse. And although every school that NCTL works with is wonderfully unique, they also share many similarities that connect our work. First and foremost, these schools demonstrate the courage, dedication and innovation to add significant more time to the school day in order to provide their children with more opportunities to learn and to grow. Additionally, these schools use this additional time to provide their teachers and staff with more time to collaborate, plan, analyze student data and work with community partners to ensure that all classrooms in their schools provide their students with an opportunity to achieve victory. 

Recently, I was in Rochester facilitating a school visit with educators, policy makers, union officials and community leaders.  After touring the school, going from class to class observing the myriad ways this school had created to engage and cultivate their students, we gathered in the library to speak with teachers and students to about their experience in an ELT school.  The teachers spoke of finally having the necessary time to collaborate together and to use student data to develop lessons that connected all subjects. Furthermore, they were energized to create more opportunities for targeted professional development and teacher support. They were excited as they spoke about how more planning time increased their ability to individualize their instruction to better meet the needs of the each child.  They gave examples of how the extra school time now provided struggling students, who in the past, would have been pulled out of enriching classes like dance, music and art to receive extra help, now have the same enrichment opportunities as ALL children without sacrificing any extra help.  Lastly, the teachers spoke about how they were now able to work more as a connected whole rather than disparate individual parts.  

Our attention quickly turned to the poised fifth grade students sitting in the room with us as we asked them what they would change in their school if they had the chance.  After a pensive pause, each student told us they wished they had even more time in school.  They described to us how the added time had helped transform their school to a place where they could excel academically as well as be exposed to many fun and interesting enrichment classes.  They talked about how teachers now had time to meet with them individually to work together to set academic goals and to map out a plan to achieve these goals.  To me, what was most impressive was that these students reflected the essence of what Expanding Learning Time can achieve when it is done well: the development of the whole child.  When the meeting was over and the students dismissed themselves stating they needed to get back to class, we all sat there amazed by how impressive these children were able to articulate why Expanded Learning Time is a smart strategy for teachers and students.  What these students had just showed us was that through ELT, victory was indeed in the classroom.  

21 New Schools Join Movement to Redesign & Expand Learning Time through the TIME Collaborative

The National Center on Time & Learning focuses its work across four broad areas: policy, advocacy, research, and technical assistance to schools and districts as they plan for and implement redesigned and expanded school schedules. Through the redesign process, we support school leaders, teachers, community partners, parents and students as they develop a new school day and year to personalize learning, offers teachers time for collaboration and reflection, and integrates many new enrichment programs into the new school day.  This is hard work but the rewards can be phenomenal.

That is why I am pleased to announce that, this fall, 21 new schools in 9 districts in 5 states are implementing redesigned schedules and expanded time as part of our TIME Collaborative. These schools join an earlier cohort of 20 schools that expanded their learning time beginning in the 2013-2014 school. Together, these 41 schools - serving nearly 22,000 students in 15 school districts - are leveraging additional time to empower students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences essential for college and career success.

The TIME Collaborative is a five-state initiative launched in 2012 at an event with Secretary Duncan, and Governors Malloy and Hickenlooper and with generous support from the Ford Foundation as well as The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and growing support from local foundations. These schools are serving as national models for effectively expanding the traditional school day and year in order to accelerate student achievement and close opportunity gaps.  Over the last several months I have had the opportunity to visit schools in Colorado, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut and the impact is exciting.  Students in Rochester, New York, told me they wanted an even longer school day! You can learn more about the TIME Collaborative here.

As the TIME Collaborative grows so does the larger expanding learning time movement. Across the country, there are more than 1,500 schools with the benefit of expanded learning time primarily in disadvantaged communities. We look forward to continuing to document and share these schools' successes in the months ahead. In fact, later this year we are planning to release an update of our Mapping the Field report which will provide a new look at the field of expanded-time schools in America.   



Jennifer Davis

Co-Founder & President

Remembering Mayor Menino

Mayor Menino asked me to join his Administration in 1998‎. I loved my job in the Clinton Administration, but the Mayor, Superintendent Payzant and my family called me back to Massachusetts. The Mayor had outlined a bold vision: "Every child in every neighborhood will have access to after school learning and enrichment programs." While there were a patch work of programs across the city in 1998 most were small and many students were on their own between 1:30 and 6:00 in the afternoon. The Mayor committed to changing that...and he did. He asked Chris Gabrieli to chair our city-wide task force and for the last 15+ years we have not only seen a doubling of programs but a new model emerge with many students in Boston in highly successful expanded-time schools. Many people are cynical about politics and politicians. That is one of the many, many reasons Mayor Menino leaves a unique legacy. He was committed to public service; to making a difference for all Bostonians--not to bolster his resume to climb to a higher public office or for financial gain. I have been around politics my entire career and I can say that Mayor Menino is one of the great city leaders of our time.  This is a sad day, but his legacy to improve education for all of Boston's students lives on.  

Announcing NCTL’s First COO!

We are very proud to announce that NCTL has hired its first Chief Operating Officer, Pete November. Before joining NCTL, Pete served as a Regional Vice President for City Year where he oversaw the Executive Directors of five City Year sites, including direct oversight responsibility for their annual operating budget, 145 staff, and 750 AmeriCorps members serving in 75 urban public schools.

Pete’s background includes also serving as Vice President, Recruitment, Admissions & Alumni Affairs at City Year.  Prior to that, Pete was Managing Director for Pacific Community Partners in California where he led strategic planning, goal setting, execution and professional development for the eight-person nonprofit team. Earlier in his career, Pete worked at the national office of the Breakthrough Collaborative (then called Summerbridge) and was also a consultant for the Computer Sciences Corporation.   

Heard In the Classes of Expanded-Time Schools

Last week we had teachers and administrators from Tennessee join us on a “Seeing is Believing” multi-day tour of Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time (ELT) schools.  It was a powerful experience to share similarities, troubleshoot differences, bounce ideas off of other teachers and find suggestions for improvement within the school walls. We came away renewed with more work to be done to help implement ELT in other districts, and Tennessee teachers hopefully were renewed with a drive to thoughtfully implement some new ideas.

Here are some of the great things we heard from these schools.

The Huntington School in Brockton, MA:

·         “There’s a real sense of collaboration – it’s a real shift from ‘my’ students to ‘our’ students.” –Teacher

·         “All of our Brockton afterschool activities have been cut; thankfully at the Huntington we can still offer fun enrichment because of our expanded learning time.” – June Saba-Mcguire, Principal

·         “The initial implementation of Playworks happened because of the ELT grant.” – June Saba, Principal

The Wetherbee School in Lawrence, MA:

·         “I don't think we had any direction—everyone was kind of doing their own thing and not collaborating. It [ELT at all K-8 schools at the direction of the state receiver] has probably been the best thing to ever happen to us at the district.” –Colleen Lennon, Principal

Student panel question: What advice do you have for the teachers here today as they bring expanded time into their own schools?

Students answer: “Make the end of the day more fun.” (These students loved their enrichment block at the end of the day.)

 Reflections from a panel of teachers in Lawrence, MA:

·         “Having the time to plan and collaborate, and to do things by yourself that aren’t rushed, is very helpful.” –Bob, Teacher at Arlington Middle School

·         “We’re able to just spend more time together and really dig into what we’re doing rather than just have a short planning time where we’re alone in our classroom or meeting with one teacher.” –Math Coach

·         “We are seeing student motivation and willingness to participate in the enrichments translating to the classroom.”  - Teacher

·         “Teachers feel that they can have deeper conversations about students’ individual needs.” -Teacher

·         “When this [ELT] came in I was reinvigorated—like I was going to be able to teach what the kids needed to be taught.” –Math Coach

Whelan School, Revere, MA:

·         “We have 100% buy-in in this staff that ELT is important and that it’s what’s best for the kids, and that’s what makes this work.” –Jamie Flynn, Principal

McKinley School, Revere, MA:

·         “It’s all about what’s best for the kids, not what’s easiest for the teachers.” –Ed Moccia, Principal

If you are looking for more powerful practices in expanded-time schools, check out Time Well Spent.

New York Moves Forward with Expanding Learning Time

There is exciting news regarding expanding learning time in New York. In 2013, Governor Cuomo and the Legislature announced an Expanded Learning Time (ELT) Initiative. With that announcement, the NY State Education Department (NYSED) began working on the parameters of the ELT Initiative and they recently announced the first cohort of districts and schools to be selected to plan for and implement expanded learning time through the state’s competitive grant process. Syracuse is implementing the new school designs after a year of planning and Yonkers and New York City are among the districts with schools involved in a planning process this year for implementation of 300 additional hours next school year. 

With additional time, these schools will be able to provide their students with more time for core academics, targeted intervention and support, and engaging enrichment classes as well as more time for teachers to collaborate and plan.

We applaud Governor Cuomo, legislative leaders, Commissioner John King and the New York State Education Department for their investment in expanding opportunities for students and teachers and for putting New York at the forefront of the movement to redesign and expand learning time. For students, particularly in our neediest communities, the current school calendar of 180 six-and-a-half-hour days is simply not enough, and these schools are taking an important step forward by designing a modern school schedule. We look forward to supporting the schools and districts as they begin this important work.

In addition to the statewide activity, just this week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new program that will designate 94 of the city’s most troubled schools as “Renewal Schools”. Students at those schools will receive an extra hour of instructional time each day, teachers will have extra professional training, and the schools will be encouraged to offer summer school.

This week’s news follows the announcement over the summer that the New York City Department of Education selected 63 schools to move forward with the new PROSE program - Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence - which gives flexibility to schools to innovate their school schedules, among other changes. Mayor de Blasio has said the program would allow schools to “reinvent themselves,” while United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said it would “move education forward not just in New York, but around the country.” Finally, Mayor DiBlasio has committed $145 million in new funding to significantly expand after-school programming for middle school students across the city.

Casimir Pulaski Elementary School Wins National Award

Congratulations to Casimir Pulaski Elementary School in Meriden, CT for receiving top honors in the HealthierUS School Challenge!  Casimir Pulaski Elementary School is the only school in Connecticut to receive a HUSSC Gold of Distinction award, and one of the first of two in the country to receive the award under the new HUSSC criteria. Less than one-half percent of all schools nationwide have this distinction.

We are so proud of the Casimir Pulaski School, an expanded-time school, part of our TIME Collaborative cohort, who put their students’ health and well-being as a priority. They won by improving the quality of foods offered in school, teaching students about nutrition, and providing more opportunities for physical activity.