Financing Expanded Learning Time: Emerging Approaches

Today's blog is republished from Cross & Joftus' C&J Blogwritten by Heather Padgette and Sharon Deich. 

There is a growing recognition that the traditional school day and school calendar are out of synch with the needs of students and the demands of the workplace. To address these challenges, more and more schools – originally charters, but increasingly traditional district schools – are expanding learning opportunities by adding hours to the school day or lengthening the school year.   Earlier this month in his state of the state address, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced plans for a longer school day and an extended school year. In 2012, the city of Chicago – which had one of the shortest school days in the country – lengthened its school day despite significant opposition.  Florida is requiring its lowest-performing schools to offer a longer school day with the hopes of boosting literacy achievement. This work is also buoyed by support from several national foundations including The Wallace Foundation, The Ford Foundation, and the C.S. Mott Foundation that are helping to untangle questions of policy and practice regarding Expanded Learning Time (ELT).

While the notion of expanding learning time appeals to many, fundamental questions abound about how much the extra time will cost and and how to pay for it.  In a new paper, developed by Cross & Joftus with the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL), we identify challenges and strategies related to financing ELT by examining several traditional district schools (not including charters) that lengthened their school day or school year.

The study confirmed that similar to the regular school day, staff costs are the biggest cost driver for ELT.  Most of the schools in the study employed their school day teachers for some or part of the longer day (one school contracted with a community partner to support the longer day) and finding funding to cover the additional staff costs was a universal challenge.

The study also raised an important question that schools are grappling with—what is the appropriate compensation for teachers for the extra hours?  For the schools in the study, we found that while all teachers were compensated for their extra time, the amount they were paid varied greatly and was not proportional to the extra time they were working (ten percent additional time did not translate to ten percent in additional pay).  In fact, the study found that for every ten percent increase in time, schools were paying teachers about six percent more.  District approaches to compensation included a flat stipend for all teachers in one school and varying percentage increases to salaries in several other places.  While we know that teacher compensation will remain a local issue, compensation data from more schools and districts is needed to identify promising practices.

Another insight from the study was that in some places moving to a longer day or longer year created staff turnover —at least in the first few years of the new schedule.  Teacher turnover presents real costs to schools and districts in terms of hiring, inducting, and training new faculty.   Principals also indicated a worry about teacher burnout associated with expanding learning time.  Several reported that when faced with a longer school day or school year some teachers were voting with their feet and moving to schools that had a shorter work day.  NCTL reports some emerging strategies to address issues of burnout including staggering teacher schedules, using technology, and more teacher collaboration time.

Finding strategies to address both of these issues– appropriate compensation and burnout for teachers who are working longer hours– will be key to sustaining ELT efforts.

As more and more districts add time to their school schedules, they have ELT’s early adopters to thank for shedding light on financing challenges and strategies and for sharing their evolving knowledge to support ELT implementation.  As we continue our work with schools and districts across the country we will use this space to share updates and emerging strategies for financing ELT.