Time Matters Blog

Recognizing International Human Rights Day

At NCTL, we believe it’s important that we recognize this day and honor the obligation to protect human rights every day of the year. The theme for this year’s Human Rights celebrates the fundamental proposition in the Universal Declaration that each one of us, everywhere, at all times, is entitled to the full range of human rights, that human rights belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values. In Article 26 of the Universal Declaration it states that, “everyone has the right to an education”. We would like to add to that: that everyone has a right to a high-quality education. But we know that, just having the rights to an education doesn’t ensure that each child will receive one. This raises the question to us: How do we close the gap between the best ideals of America (and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and the reality that we see around us every day?

The current events in Ferguson, MO and the Eric Garner case in NYC, among many other cases, bring this point closer to home. While we know that there is so much involved in these cases, we also know that in communities of concentrated poverty, we can and should be doing more to ensure that all of our fellow citizens are not only receiving an education, but a high-quality education.

We agree with our colleagues at 50CAN in their response to the events in Ferguson:

"We believe that ensuring all Americans receive a high-quality education regardless of their address is a critical element of any approach to addressing the problems we see in Ferguson and in communities—particularly those of color—around the country. We believe this because we have seen firsthand the transformative power of great teachers and great schools in the lives of their students.

But we also recognize that the injustice of an unequal education is just one of many interconnected and deeply rooted injustices that must be undone if we are to create the society of opportunity we seek. And we cannot afford to be silent on the other injustices that work against the students we are working so hard to serve through our education advocacy campaigns.

And 50CAN is right. We cannot afford to be silent. We join with them and our colleagues at Teach for America who issued a call for action about the dropout crisis in low-income communities.

"We should all be challenging the reality that half of the children growing up in America’s low-income communities do not graduate from high school, and barely one in twenty graduates from college, and that the expectations we hold for our students in school and in life have everything to do with the color of their skin and their families’ economic status.

One’s zip code and ethnicity cannot be a determinant of one’s future. We all must work harder, and more importantly, work together to make sure that each and every child graduates from high school knowing his or her future, whether in a job, college or preparatory program. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Perhaps it’s that ‘weapon’ that will challenge the status quo and finally bring us all together.

A Modest Proposal for Building Community Support for Expanded Time

I recall President Bill Clinton saying that, next to president, the toughest office to hold in the United States is member of the local school board. And you can see his point. Political decisions that directly affect the lives of children are always tough. When those children are not merely abstractions, but the very real shining, happy faces you see every day, the decisions become deeply personal. When cutbacks or questions of equity are involved, the decisions that have to be made can even be painful and unsettling. So, I tip my hat to all our local school board members who must daily try to manage through the many competing agendas to support schools the best that they can.

I bring this up because, as much as I am an ardent supporter of expanding learning time, I am well aware that introducing this kind of change to a school community is not without its critics. Some parents have legitimate concerns that lengthening the day by 90 minutes or so will upset afternoon routines for children whose school days now end at 2:00 or 2:30. The upshot is that when a proposal for substantially lengthening the school day emerges, some communities may find opposition outweighs support. The powers-that-be must then navigate through the forces of pro and con to come to a solution on how to proceed.

The first step is understanding why parents may be opposed to a longer day for their children. In our experience, opposition to the proposal often emerges because the disruption a longer day brings to what is already known—a set afternoon habit of homework or afterschool activities—is unambiguous. In turn, this disruption can be anxiety-provoking. On the other hand, the potential benefits of a longer day are less immediately clear to parents: what does it mean to have more instructional time or have enrichment built into the school day? It is much easier to disregard unknown advantages than certain disadvantages.

And this is why a months-long planning process is so vital in boosting the potential of an expanded-time proposal to become reality. The planning actually has two favorable effects. First, it becomes the vehicle through which to collect parental input into what a redesigned school day can look like. Second, it gives educators more time to communicate the vision and specifics of the redesigned day to the whole community. Just by virtue of having more opportunity to describe the plans, a greater number of parents will come to see how their child’s school will become a place with more robust teaching and learning, not to mention provide their child a broader array of activities as part of school than they would otherwise have access to. In this case, familiarity often breeds approval.

The lesson for school committees who might be considering expanding the schedule at one or more schools in the district, then, is to not make snap judgments about its viability based on immediate reaction of parents or students. They are only reacting (legitimately) to disruptions that will happen; they are not yet seeing the potential good that can come. Give the school-based educators, together with external partners and parents, time to develop a thorough plan of what a redesigned day could entail. Also, encourage the school community to make this planning process as transparent as possible. Free flow of information will generate trust and erode confusion and conflicting information. If school boards are able to make the process of adopting an expanded-time model more deliberate and thoughtful, they might just find that competing agendas transform into a consensus for change.

Moving Forward in the Empire State

An article from Capital New York today outlined some of the challenges in moving the Expanded Learning Time Grant Program forward in the state. Of course, New York leaders are trying to accelerate education improvements across the board—with the ELT initiative as a component of a much larger agenda—and bumps in the road are inevitable. But it’s important that the challenges around the grant program not obscure the more important story, which is that New York – thanks in large part to the leadership of Governor Cuomo and Education Commissioner John King – has been at the forefront of the movement to redesign schools to better meet the needs of students through expanding learning time.  This movement is without question one of the most promising educational strategies available to schools today as they embark upon higher standards, improving teacher quality, and broadening educational opportunities for students.  It is still early, but the districts of Rochester and Syracuse are seeing promising results and teachers are particularly positive about the additional time they have to collaborate with-- and learn from--their peers in schools that have implemented expanded learning time.
It is exciting that in New York State, six of nine school districts that won the award are choosing to move forward with planning for redesigned and expanded school days with the state grant. (Sixteen additional districts had applied and hoped to participate.) These winning districts and schools are working with their school communities, including teachers, parents, and community organizations, to determine how best to create a new schedule and school design to meet the needs of their children. From our work over the past ten years, we know that every school and district needs to determine the schedule that best fits the needs of their students. The New York State Department of Education is giving the schools that decide to move forward the opportunity to develop high-quality plans for expanded learning by granting them this planning year and two years of implementation support. 
Changing the standard 6.5 hour 180 day school schedule – something that is so ingrained in our society and culture – is hard work. Anyone, whether it be a parent, teacher, superintendent, or elected official, who stands up and says that our current system is broken and that students, particularly students in high-poverty communities, need more time in school in order to close achievement and opportunity gaps deserves a lot of credit. We cannot let small bumps in the road get in the way of the bigger picture, which is that through the leadership of Governor Cuomo and Commissioner King and the commitment of many superintendents, teachers, parents and union leaders across the state, New York is poised to offer many more students high-quality educational opportunities in the years to come.

Blended Learning: It’s More than Just Technology

Only four years ago, Disrupting Class introduced many of us to blended learning—defined generally as a student learning environment which combines online digital content with teacher-led instruction. If that definition sounds vague, it’s because…well, it is vague. And you would not be alone in thinking that. Educators, researchers, foundations, and other very smart people have varying ideas on both what blended learning looks like, and how it should look.

Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn, the authors of Disrupting Class, are two of those very smart people. Their non-partisan think tank, the Christensen Institute, is a leading thought partner in defining the present and imagining the future of blended learning. Of course, the Christensen Institute is not the only place that Horn continues to contribute to the field. Recently, he and Heather Staker shared some lessons learned and key takeaways for educators in their new book, Blended, which is worth checking out not only for Horn and Staker’s expertise, but also because it addresses a very real need among a growing number of schools looking to go blended.

As we travel the country supporting and learning from schools, we’re finding that schools—including expanded learning time schools—are increasingly intrigued by the potential benefits that can be gained from going blended. Yet blended learning, just like expanded learning time, is a strategy. In other words, it’s not just having more technology and/or more time, but rather how you use them that lead to results. Just as many people have asked us, ‘Well, how do you use time?’ Blended answers a lot of the questions about how to go blended. Just as Disrupting Class gave us a vision of blended learning, Blended gives us concrete practices to turn that vision into reality.

Like Horn and Staker, we’re also building on the growing set of blended learning resources and tools directed at educators. Later this month, we will be releasing our own blended learning implementation guide, Supporting Success through Time and Technology, which profiles six expanded learning time blended learning schools across the country and provides a detailed seven-step process for educators to implement blended learning in their own schools. We encourage anyone who is interested in blended learning to check out this guide (once it’s released); the meantime, pick up a copy of Blended

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.