Expanding Learning Time, and Doing It Well

This post, by Jennifer Davis, Co-Founder & President of NCTL, was originally posted on The Quick and the Ed, April 4, 2012.

As Education Sector’s Elena Silva describes in her new report, Off the Clock:  What More Time Can (and Can’t) Do for Turnarounds, expanding learning time can be a powerful tool to improve student achievement and turnaround low-performing schools. Over the past seven years, we’ve seen that success at Boston’s Clarence Edwards Middle School and the Kuss Middle School in Fall River, which are both featured in Off the Clock. One school not included in the report, Orchard Gardens K-8 school, represents a recent dramatic turnaround funded through the School Improvement Grant program, once again proving that success is possible.

While we’ve been heartened by the success of expanded-time schools, we agree that simply adding time to the school calendar is not sufficient. Roland Fryer’s research examining 35 New York City charter schools makes clear that expanding learning time can be a powerful tool to improve student achievement, but only in combination with other necessary reforms, including teacher and principal effectiveness and using data to individualize support for students.  We share Silva’s concern about the uneven implementation of expanded time in the SIG program; however the U.S. Department of Education was clear in its guidelines that for turnarounds to succeed, multiple reforms have to be implemented simultaneously. Unfortunately, this is a tall order for many districts housing the lowest-performing schools, especially without enough time to plan for significant reforms and a new schedule. As a result, success at many schools may take longer to be seen. Last year, NCTL set out to document in detail what high performing schools do with expanded time. We developed a report, Time Well Spent, profiling the practices of 30 high-performing, high-poverty, expanded-time schools, both district and charter. These types of practices need to be implemented if we are to see across-the-board success.

The urgency and focus on improving low-performing schools must continue and the U.S. Department of Education, as well as state and district leaders, need to provides incentives for high-quality implementation. Support is necessary to translate federal policies into best practices and implementation at the school-level.  The administration’s waiver plan offers additional resources by allowing 21stCentury Community Learning Center and Supplemental Educational Services funds, in addition to SIG, to be used to expand learning time.

Off the Clock highlights that “leaders of successful ELT schools say that more time has increased student ‘time on task,’ broadened the curriculum, and allowed for more experiential learning, greater attention to individual students, and stronger adult-child relationships.”  We are all in agreement that these are just the types of opportunities we want for our students.  Now our challenge is to make sure that more schools have the opportunity to both expand their schedules and use that time well.