Overheard at the Convening

Wow!  What a tremendous two days of learning and sharing at our national convening on Expanded Learning Time, which we co-hosted with the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Of course, there is no way to capture everything that conference-goers heard and witnessed. There were so many captivating speakers, so many engaging panels, some “world premiere” videos of a few expanded-time schools, and even the opportunity to visit 19 expanded-time schools in Boston, Lynn, Fall River and Cambridge. If you were not able to join us for this monumental event (or even if you were), I thought that you might like get a small taste of the excitement by reading just a smattering of remarks from speakers and panelists.

A couple small disclaimers. First, these quotes represent our best rendering of the words that were spoken. They have not been vetted by the speakers, so they may not be the exact words or phrasing, but I am confident we captured their meaning. Second, these quotations are not really listed in any particular order, and certainly not in the order that they were spoken. Instead, they will, I hope, bring you just a little closer to the action that took place in Boston.

o   “For decades we have struggled with the achievement gap not closing fast enough. It’s simply unacceptable to maintain the status quo…. For our schools to be doing the same old thing in the same old way will not produce the changes that we seek. … We see more time as an absolute necessity if we are ever to close the achievement gap for our most vulnerable children.” Carol Johnson, Superintendent, Boston Public Schools

o   “How do we create that sense of urgency that all children deserve a quality learning experience?” Paul Reville, Secretary of Education, Massachusetts

o   “There is no evidence at all that poverty is a learning disability…. Unless it is [because poor children lack access to quality schools].” Pedro Noguera, Professor of Education, New York University

o    “It’s not just about providing kids with competency through high school but giving all kids the opportunity to be the next innovators and inventors.” Bill Kurtz, Founder, Denver School of Science and Technology

o   “We used the time to restructure the day so that now we have the right teacher in front of the right students with the right curriculum at all times during the day.” Amrita Sahni, Director of Instruction, Edwards Middle School, Boston

o   “The coin of the realm is time.” Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

o   “We shouldn’t let expanded time get mired in the debate about how to implement what we know is right for our kids.” Pedro Noguera, Professor of Education, New York University

o   “We have to break the connection between zip codes and outcomes.” Paul Reville, Secretary of Education, Massachusetts

o   “Congress can’t fund everything in education, so you have to ask, ‘what are the game changers?’ and at the top of the list is expanded time.” Gideon Bragin, Legislative aide, Office of Representative Mike Honda (D-CA)

o    “Providing a quality education for all is both the civil rights issue of our time and an economic imperative,” Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, U.S. Department of Education

o   “The key to our success is focus and focused use of time.” Mary Labuski, Assistant Principal, Jacob Hiatt Magnet School, Worcester, Mass.

o   “School is about what our young people go off and do in their lives and it requires more time to prepare them.” Dave Levin, Founder, KIPP Charter Schools

o   “We struck gold when we had our kids doing science activities as part of the expanded day and they did not realize they were learning,” Sean Davenport, Former Principal, Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School (New York City)

o    “If the Common Core standards are to succeed, they must be inextricably linked to the movement to expand time.” Mike Cohen, President, Achieve, Inc.

o   “If I could wave my magic wand, I’d have teachers work year round and eight hours a day and have time within their daily schedule to work together on improving practice. Also, teachers should work part-time in school leadership positions. We need that kind of radical shift to change what schools can do.” Tom Payzant, Former Superintendent, Boston Public Schools

o   “Extra time without meaningful alignment is just wheel-spinning…. Until we design entire structures around the child, we will continue to spin our wheels.” Justin Cohen, President of the School Turnaround Group, Mass Insight

As you can see even in this very tiny sample, the depth and breadth of the topics covered was impressive, and the drumbeat for more time was booming. Most speakers were not focused on using time to add to what we’re already doing in education, however, but rather to fundamentally change our “education delivery system,” as Paul Reville calls it. Indeed, the consensus has started to form (as I wrote about on Tuesday) that expanded time stands at the vanguard of a totally re-conceptualized vision of what schools can and should be doing to meet the needs of today’s students.

In my final conversation of the day—a casual one at the closing reception—I was processing the day’s events with Superintendent Jeff Smith of the small Balsz school district in Phoenix. He is the first superintendent in the country (as far as we know) to move an entire traditional district to a school year of 200 days (from 180 days). As we talked about how he had undertaken this momentous change and how much his students have thrived with the new calendar, he described how his decision to implement a longer year for him was straightforward. His students and teachers just needed more time to raise achievement, not to mention the fact that the learning slide over the long summer break posed an enormous challenge to overcome every single year. And, yet, he had to scramble around to build the support (both financial and political) to make it happen. “It’s simple, but it’s not easy,” he told me, in his characteristically understated manner.

His words are still ringing in my ears, for they summarize nicely our work at NCTL: we aim to make the simple truth of the need for more learning time a little bit easier to becoming the reality.