Time Matters Blog

Why I Believe in ELT

Today’s blog is written by summer intern, Jeanie Mai. She attended an ELT middle school, KIPP Academy in Lynn, and is now going into her first year at Salem State University majoring in athletic training.

Every child should be given an expanded learning time (ELT) education, but most don’t have that opportunity. Fortunately, I lived in an area where an ELT school had just opened up, and conveniently, in the grade I was going into. The ELT school was a charter school known as KIPP Academy in Lynn, MA (KAL). Classes started from seven in the morning and lasted until five in the evening, with each period lasting one hour. I was very hesitant to go at first because I didn’t want to spend another couple of hours doing homework on top of getting out late, but I soon learned all that time was well worth it and the best decision I’ve ever made. With more hours in the school day I was given more time to learn and now had the time to fully understand what was being taught to me.

In our expanded time schedule we had two periods for math, regular math in the morning, and a problem solving class in the afternoon that corresponds with the morning class. Our teachers came up with fun and creative methods to keep us engaged; I remember a fun class in seventh grade we learned about percentages and my teacher took the beat of “Step by Step” by “The New Kids on the Block” and changed the lyrics to how to get the percentage of any number, step by step. Two hours of math really helped me learn because if I didn’t understand something from the morning I could go over it in the afternoon. The additional time and fun methods like these helped a lot when I got to high school. I was placed in basic algebra, my freshman year, but using what I was taught, I won the “Excellence in Math” award for my class and got bumped up to Honors math my next three years.

With more time to learn there was also more time to play. KAL wasn’t just successful in the classroom because of the expanded day, but also on the court. I was captain of the girls’ basketball varsity team and we went undefeated in our league for all my three years on the team and won every tournament we were invited to. We had more time in our day to practice than the other schools we faced and it definitely helped us to be as successful as we were. The more time and effort you put into something, whether it’s for practice or studying, the better the results you see.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the ELT high school (KALC). It was definitely a hard transition going from an ELT middle school to a regular school day in high school. The difference became clear my senior year in pre-calc class. The math taught to me from freshman to junior year, I already learned from KIPP, but pre-calc was entirely new to me. I went from being a high honors student when I had two hours of learning math to a C average student having one 45 minute period of math in my senior year. My teacher would fly by an entire chapter in 30 minutes and I struggled for most of the year. I wish I had the opportunity to attend KALC because I would have benefitted more. I believe in ELT because I know the benefits of it first-hand and it helped me gain good habits that I carried into high school and probably for the rest of my life. 

Time Doesn’t Have to Mean Money

Today's post is written by Antonio Parés, a School Design/Redesign consultant, who has worked with Denver Public Schools, Get Smart Schools, and Generation Schools Network to open innovative models in Denver's school turnaround networks. He is a graduate of CU Boulder, a Teach for America Alumni, and a former teacher at IDEA Public Schools. You can follow him on Twitter @antonio_pares

The momentum behind expanded learning time to improve student achievement continues to grow. Learning time is a resource that education leaders across the country are eager to maximize for students from high-poverty communities.  Unfortunately, we often believe, and it’s often the case that more time involves a tradeoff, and in the education sector that tradeoff is money. Principals and district leaders assume that expanding the school day and school year will involve paying teachers more or hiring additional staff. I contend that shouldn’t be the expectation. Instead, as schools and school systems consider implementing expanded learning time they should view it as an opportunity to break out of historical and outdated school structures, rethink their personnel systems, and innovatively expand learning time for their students in a cost effective manner.

Rethinking the Basics of a School Schedule

Adding more learning time can be done in a cost neutral way, if we start to challenge some of our current assumptions about basic school structures. Schools must be willing to think outside of the box. For example:

  • -Why do staff days have to start at 8:00am or conclude at 4:00pm?
  • -Why must all of a school’s staff go on vacation at the same time?
  • -Why do schools continue to stick to a semester system?

Rethinking and shifting these basic components of a school day or school year can accomplish expanded learning time in a cost effective fashion. For instance, Englewood School District in Colorado is aiming to expand their students’ school day. One option is staggering when the day starts and ends for their teachers. By asking half of their staff to work 7:30am - 3:30pm and the other half to work 8:30am - 4:30pm, Englewood can add an hour to their students’ school day without requiring teachers to work more.

In New York, Brooklyn Generation Academy has extended their school year by staggering teacher vacations. By having grade-level teachers take their vacations at different times of the year the student calendar has grown to nearly 200 days, while teachers continue to work a 180-day year.

Back in Colorado, West Generation Academy in Denver has thrown out the traditional semester calendar and moved to a trimester system. West’s students take English and math all three trimesters, every morning, for 90 minutes a day. Their electives are on an A-B schedule, for 50 minutes a day, and often change with the trimester. By implementing this schedule, West Generation Academy’s students receive substantially more time in their core courses and have the opportunity to take more and different electives than most of their district peers.

These schools and school systems have one thing in common - they implemented more learning time for students in a way that costs little-to-nothing extra. They have proven that expanding learning isn’t just an exercise in adding more time, but instead an opportunity to break apart old structures, systems, and expectations and innovatively put them back together in a way that provides more learning time for students with little to no increase in their budgets.

Jennifer Davis Discusses Utica Expanded Learning Time

This morning, NCTL co-founder and president Jennifer Davis discussed the announcement of the Extended Learning Grant in Utica, NY on Utica’s WIBX radio.

Jennifer congratulated Utica for putting together a strong initial plan to receive the grant which has positioned the district for a thoughtful implementation of expanded learning time. Jennifer went on to cite the important impact that ELT has had on many schools across the nation, and how both high-performing and struggling students can benefit from an expanded school schedule.

 “I want to congratulate Utica and the state for really taking on this agenda. It’s a really an important one for our country….These kinds of reforms and resources are exactly what school districts and children need.”

Listen to her radio segment here. We look forward to supporting the districts in New York as they move forward through the process of planning for and implementing expanded learning time.

An Open Letter to Students Skeptical about Expanded Learning Time

Today's blog is written by our summer intern, Abby Cobb, who is heading into her junior year, majoring in Cognitive Science at Yale University.

Dear Skeptical Students,

As a current college student and recent high school graduate, I can assure you no student wants to spend more time in school. When you hear “expanded learning time,” I’m sure all you think about is sitting in front of the same teacher for an extra hour, hearing things explained in the same way they were explained the first time (If you didn’t understand vectors the first time, why does your teacher think you’ll understand it if he/she explains it the same way?). I can empathize with these feelings, because, prior to this summer, they would have been my exact thoughts if someone had told me my school was implementing ELT. But, thankfully, I’ve had the opportunity to intern with NCTL and change my misconceptions about ELT and reevaluate my mindset around education.

At the end of my spring semester, I couldn’t wait for summer and the start of my internship with NCTL, a welcome reprieve from lectures and midterms. When I showed up at the NCTL offices in Boston, there was a lot of talk about ELT and its benefits. As someone who had just finished finals and countless hours in the library, I myself was skeptical about the concept of increasing school time. I wondered why schools needed more time. Couldn’t they improve instruction without changing the time commitment for students and teachers?

After working with the NCTL staff and spending time in ELT schools around the state of Massachusetts, what I’ve realized is that quality instruction and student engagement depend on the added time that an expanded school day allows. With more time comes more personalized academic help, time for enrichment activities, and, in some cases, opportunities for social-emotional curriculum. This ensures that students aren’t spending more time in front of the same teacher, but are being engaged and challenged in many different ways. While “expanded learning time” often has a negative connotation for students, it doesn’t just mean more of the same teaching; it means more time to engage in all aspects of educational and extracurricular interests. In reality, a longer school day/year improves the overall culture of a school and makes the school day more enjoyable, despite having more time.

The opportunity to see the benefits of ELT first-hand also prompted me to start thinking about how we, as students, view school. Unfortunately, we are often waiting for school to end, rather than trying to make the best of the time we are spending in school. So, I would encourage you to adopt the same mindset that I’m going to take with me back to school, which is to stop looking at school time in a negative light, and to start looking it as a tool that can be leveraged to improve our time in school. Stop waiting for the end of the school day, stop waiting for Friday, stop waiting for summer, and start looking to make the most of the time we are spending in school.

Here’s to hoping I convinced you,

Abby Cobb

Ex-skeptical Student

P.S. If you are interested in learning more about how ELT can be utilized to improve the school day, check out NCTL’s publication Time Well Spent

Making Every Minute Count

Today's post is written by Lisa Pryor, senior director of State & District Engagement.

Making Every Minute Count is an essential element of effective expanded learning time schools.  When coupled with other essentials such as time for teachers to collaborate and a positive school culture exciting things happen for students. See for yourself in these three video clips from a Palo Alto, CA third grade classroom as featured on the Teaching Channel.

Every movement, every minute and every person in Jen Saul’s 3rd grade class matters. In this video clip Saul demonstrates how she choreographs every minute of the school day to keep students engaged, moving and learning. She prefers to structure each day in 20-minute learning blocks focused on individualized, small and whole group activities that give students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning and mastery of content and skills. A sample daily schedule is here and a sample detailed plan for an afternoon of teaching and learning is here.

In a companion video Saul’s class demonstrates their school-wide silent signals strategy to keep all students engaged in the learning activities, another way to make every minute count in this beautifully choreographed learning space also known as 3rd grade. Saul and her colleagues work diligently and intentionally at the beginning of school to establish a culture of high expectations for all students. Watch her demonstrate this practice with students in the short Teaching Channel’s Ready to Learn: Creating a Positive Classroom Culture here.

Saul thinks about and plans for transitions as part of each day’s structure to make every minute count. Students are taught routines and structures that maximize time and transitions so they move confidently through the day. At the end of each day Saul acknowledges and praises students for their hard work and hard thinking, reflecting her own growth mindset while reinforcing the students’ personal sense of accomplishment.

Students in her class have 15% more time for learning each year with 190, 7.5 hour student days. Their year features a shorter summer break to reduce learning loss during time away from school. Teachers work an additional 7 days in the school’s expanded year providing more time for collaborative planning and data analysis to support the personalized learning and intervention support for students. In addition to expanding their day and year, the school works to maximize learning time and minimize learning interruptions.

Want to know how your school is making every minute count? Use NCTL’s free School Time Analysis Tool  to get a snapshot of how time is currently used at your school. If you want to get a better sense of how time is used in your own classroom, use our companion Classroom Time Analysis Tool. For assistance in using the tools or interpreting the results, please email Lisa Pryor at lpryor@timeandlearning.org.

Announcement: NY State School Districts Participating in Extended Learning Time Grant Program

Statement from Jennifer Davis, Co-Founder & President of the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL), on today’s announcement of school districts participating in New York State’s competitive grant program to expand learning time in targeted schools across New York.

“We congratulate the nine school districts across New York state that have been awarded the state’s Extended Learning Time Grant. 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. I applaud Governor Cuomo, legislative leaders, and Commissioner John King and the New York State Education Department for their investment in expanding learning for the students at these schools and for putting New York at the forefront of the movement to redesign and expand learning time.

With expanded learning 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.

Across the country, there are more than 1,500 expanded-time schools in 36 states and the District of Columbia, chiefly serving the disadvantaged students. New York is already home to over 70 expanded-time schools, including district, charter, magnet, and turnaround schools, that are providing their students with more opportunities for a strong, well-rounded education.

We need more states to follow New York’s lead to expand learning time to ensure students are prepared for college and their careers. We look forward to supporting school leaders across New York as they begin this important work.

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The National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL) (www.timeandlearning.org) is dedicated to expanding learning time to improve student achievement and enable a well-rounded education. Through research, public policy, and technical assistance, NCTL supports national, state, and local initiatives that add significantly more school time for academic and enrichment opportunities to help all children meet the demands of the 21st century.

Embark on Summer Learning

This past Friday was Summer Learning Day, a national advocacy day recognized to spread awareness about the importance of summer learning for our nation’s youth in helping close the achievement gap and support healthy development in communities all across the country. At NCTL we know the importance of summer learning, and the impact of what happens to low-income students when resources aren’t readily available. More than half of the achievement gap between students from lower and higher income homes can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, poorer children are less likely to graduate from high school or have a clear path to college.

The First Lady, Michelle Obama, spoke about this on Friday at the second annual United We Serve Summer Service Initiative- recognizing the importance of summer learning, and the importance of supporting students in need. She spoke directly to students: “we’ve got to make sure you have the resources you need to reach your goals.  And as young people, your job is to make the most of your summer so that you can reach your potential and achieve every last one of your dreams.”

So what can be done to keep children engaged during the summer? The Wallace Foundation has some nice publications to help fund, strategize, and implement summer learning programs.

Collaboration—the Key to Expanded Learning Time

Today's post is written by Abby Cobb, a summer intern at NCTL. Abby is a junior at Yale College. She is majoring in Cognitive Science and is a part of the Education Scholars program, which mirrors her interest in combining educational research and policy. 

"You are never strong enough that you don't need help." 

This quote, by famous labor leader Cesar Chavez, seems a fitting start to a post about this year’s Massachusetts Education Partnership Conference, which revolved around the theme “Leading K-12 Innovation through Labor-Management Collaboration.” With an emphasis on the future of labor-management collaboration, the conference reflected the spirit of Chavez’s words and served as a forum to discuss the future of education with regards to labor negotiations.

The breakout session I attended focused on collaboration as the key to expanding teacher and student time to maximize the impact of ELT schools across Massachusetts. Our co-founder and president, Jennifer Davis, moderated a panel in front of an audience of educators, district and union leaders, school committee members and parents from across the state of MA. Panelists included: Ted Chambers, teacher and union leader from Edwards Middle School (Boston); Mary Hurley, teacher and union leader at Longsjo Middle School (Fitchburg); Longsjo’s principal, Craig Chalifoux; and Paul Toner, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

From the beginning it was apparent that although labor negotiations around expanded time can be complicated and challenging, the panelists and audience members had firsthand experience with the benefits of ELT in their schools and communities and are committed to using ELT as a tool to help improve schools across the state. The focus of the discussion revolved around the importance of building buy-in at all levels as the key to the ongoing development of ELT. This means that embedding time for teachers is vital, because it strengthens teachers’ commitment to the profession and allows them adequate time to develop curriculum, collaborate with peers, and meet the needs of all students. It is also important to build teacher buy-in by creating ongoing opportunities for teacher voice and feedback after ELT is launched.

Teacher buy-in is balanced with union buy-in and cooperation, which was also discussed extensively. The panel brought up the various ways in which labor and management have worked together to provide fair compensation for teachers in Massachusetts ELT schools and districts. Flexibility and a shared recognition that different models will look at labor-management negotiations in different ways were two key points panelists emphasized. Based on the audience questions, it appears that this struggle to balance many unique (and sometimes competing) interests among different entities is a shared experience of both the panelists and audience members.

My overall takeaway from the session is that achieving a balance between meeting the needs of students and teachers is critical. I believe the goal of expanding learning time in the state of Massachusetts and throughout the country is going to need help from all stakeholders: teachers, unions, students, parents, and politicians. Chavez realized the necessity of cooperation in the sphere of labor-management, and it is with this same collaborative spirit that we’ll be able to make a lasting change in education—a change which no single entity is strong enough to accomplish by itself.

If you’d like more information about how to leverage teacher time in ELT schools, our recently-released report, Time for Teachers, is a great resource.  

Plight or Promise: The Future of Teaching in America

I recently listened to a fascinating radio conversation on WBUR’s On Point program with a group of teachers who had left the profession. For an hour, they engaged with each other and with callers about how teaching today is fraught with so much regulation, pressure and lack of support that they felt they had no other choice but to leave.  And, as is often the case with teachers, these individuals were not just leaving a job, they were walking away with a heavy heart from a career that was their life’s passion.

Among the reasons these educators cited for their departure was their perception that academic standards limited their ability to teach their students to be creative and the slew of paperwork that they were expected to complete.  Also, not surprisingly, the discussion led at least one teacher to raise the constraints of time as a severe problem. She noted that the expectations for learning outcomes do not comport with the learning time available in the classroom. For these educators, more generally, teaching had become a job that no longer allowed them serve their own aspirations for how to nurture young minds.

A fairly dispiriting conversation, to be sure, but the response to the host’s penultimate question left me feeling downright sad at first, and, then, upon reflection, a bit confused. Replying to the query “Do you think the quality of teaching will decline in the years to come?” each panelist explained her sense that the profession and, thus, the state of education were in decline. To paraphrase the veteran teacher of the group, “I’ve encountered many great teachers in my years in the profession, but it’s getting harder and harder for these folks to hold on. At the same time, it’s getting more difficult to attract new people into teaching.” Listening to that assessment about a core element —the core element?— of our public education system, how can you not become despondent?

Yet, I have to say that my own experience studying schools does not align with this gloomy appraisal. Indeed, in the schools that I’ve had the privilege to visit over the last year, I have actually come to exactly the opposite conclusion: teaching and our education system are improving, slowly but surely. Why do I think so? For the simple reason that not only have I met a lot of great teachers, but, more important, I’ve witnessed many, many teachers who were working really hard to get even better.

Believe me, I’m not blind to the reality that instruction in classrooms can often be subpar. The level of rigor, the push to have students apply higher-order thinking skills, even the expectations for what is possible are much lower than I’d like to see. And, yet, in almost every school I’ve been to, teachers are making a concerted effort to reflect on how they can strengthen their teaching.  Then, they are collaborating in various ways to turn those reflections into concrete actions for change. As Robert Frost might say, “They have miles to go before they sleep,” but they are most definitely on the move.

And, by the way, teachers are headed on this path of continuous improvement not in spite of the new Common Core standards, but because of them. They are well aware of the effort needed to reconfigure their teaching—to stretch themselves and their students—to adjust to the demands of the Common Core, but it was this very effort that excited them. One Arizona teacher described her work and that of her colleagues to me as a “beautiful challenge.”

At the end of the day, then, the question of who is right on whether instructional quality is improving or waning may be a matter of perception and personal experience. No one is really able to predict the long-range prospects for our nation’s teaching profession because it depends on where you look.

But what we do know is fairly clear: for teachers to be successful, they must have the support and the opportunity to grow as professionals. As we detail in our new report, Time for Teachers, one vital way that public education system can achieve this objective is to greatly expand the scope and depth of professional development in schools. In other words, if my rosier assessment of the future of teaching is to hold sway, we need to make more schools in the country look like the schools we feature. On the flip side, we know what to do to avoid a situation where teaching gets weaker. So, let’s get to work.

Rethinking Teacher Time for Professional Development

Today's post is written by Chelsea Murphy, the Communications & Digital Media Associate for NCTL.

This week I read the article “Professional Learning Takes Time in Education Week.  The article is an honest teacher perspective from Noah Zeichner, a Teacher at Chief Sealth International School in Seattle, Washington, who shares his belief in the value of building professional learning opportunities into the school day. He reflects, “As I finish up my first decade of classroom teaching, there is still much I want to learn…” This raises the question- if teachers are asking for it, how can we support teacher professional development?

Noah’s theme, assessing how time is used in school is very much in line with our work at NCTL.  We believe that time well-spent can be beneficial for students as well as teachers, who are the strongest in-school influence on student performance and have implications that go well into the children’s futures.  All children deserve great teachers, and we must continue to work to build effective/excellent teachers. Our newest report, Time for Teachers: Leveraging Time to Strengthen Instruction and Empower Teachers, came to many of the same conclusions mentioned in this article, and highlights how using time specifically in expanded-time schools can successfully provide teachers with more time to collaborate with colleagues, analyze students data, create new lesson plans, and develop new skills.  More time in the day creates the opportunity for teachers to learn from one another and creates a continuous learning environment of robust teachers.

Also similar to Noah’s comparison to Singapore we compared U.S schools to international countries and on average, U.S. teachers spend approximately 80 percent of their time on instruction, while the international average for countries reporting data to the OECD is 67 percent. Schools that we featured in Time for Teachers spend 60 percent of their expanded school schedule on direct instruction with 40 percent of their time on collaboration, coaching, one-on-one support, and other activities and even with less direct instruction, achievement rates were higher than before. We have found that schools that have strategically set aside time for teacher collaboration have successfully seen rising student achievement.

Through this article, it’s great to see empowered teachers who are starting to innovatively think about how to use school time.  In order to start to implement real change to support professional development we also need support from district leaders to direct resources and support schools to create school-embedded professional learning opportunities and to put in place the infrastructure and staffing models to support students while teachers are learning together.

Share your thoughts on using school time for professional development in comments.

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