Mapping the Momentum of Expanded-Time Schools

Over the last few years, NCTL has had the pleasure of visiting hundreds of expanded-time schools and documenting their individual stories which describe, how more time, used thoughtfully, can be a transformative input for students and educators. However, it is not often that we have the opportunity to step back and scan the entire field of schools, and examine the progress being made on the ground nationally in this exciting educational arena.

Our first broad attempt to better define the cohort of expanded-time schools came in 2009 with our report, Tracking an Emerging Movement. This report identified 655 expanded-time schools serving more than 300,000 students. This group represented a few pioneering districts and primarily charter school networks, and the findings of this report suggested that this was a largely decentralized movement, with entrepreneurial endeavors to break from the conventional school calendar still the predominant mode for becoming an expanded-time school.
Yet, a lot has changed in the past three years. As our nation’s educators are being asked to transform educational outcomes, implement even more rigorous academic standards, and employ new reforms in the teacher effectiveness and evaluation arenas, there is a growing recognition that many more of our nation’s schools could benefit from the adoption of an expanded school day and/or year. As such, policy and education leaders have promoted and funded initiatives that enable more school time at unprecedented rates and at this critical point, we were excited to examine whether these policies were having a real-world impact in encouraging more, and particularly traditional district schools, to implement expanded-time schedules.
Earlier this week we were pleased to share with you our second report on the state of the field of expanded-time schools in America.  Mapping the Field: A Report on Expanded-Time Schools in America draws from the NCTL Expanded-Time Schools Database to document over 1,000 schools across the U.S. that have expanded their operational days and/or years for all students. These schools are from 36 states and the District of Columbia and serve over 520,000 students – or approximately 1 percent of students nationwide. In addition, 40 percent of these schools are traditional district schools and the same percentages have implemented expanded-time schedules in the past 3 years.
Although these schools have all been established with or converted to an expanded-time schedule for various reasons, the increase in the number schools in the NCTL Database in just three short years, does suggest a burgeoning field that is very much affected by policy. It is hard to overlook the first, powerful finding —the meaningful increase of more than 50% in the total number of schools and 67% in the number of students served since our last census just three years ago. 
The bottom line is that the 1,000+ schools featured in our Mapping the Field report demonstrate that operating an expanded-time schedule is not only possible but happening in many places across the country and in many contexts. As someone who has spent the past several years steeped in this work at NCTL, I was encouraged by this finding, but it was not until I had a chance to speak with a school leader earlier this week that I fully recognized the magnitude of this growing national movement. A current school principal at one of the founding schools in the Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time Initiative put it so clearly,
“When we started this work six years ago, we felt like islands off doing some crazy work to really shake things up at our school. Now other principals across the country can look to each other and it’s amazing to see that they are part of a growing network that is really learning from each other and trying to change how we educate our students.”
With committed and energized school leaders like this principal and the strong priorities of policymakers at all levels to close achievement and opportunity gaps and better prepare our students for success in college and the 21st century work force, we are confident that the number and scope of expanded-time schools will continue to blossom over the coming years. 
Jessica Edwards is the Research Manager at NCTL and the lead author of Mapping the Field.