Move Spreads to Expand School Day

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By Erika Fitzpatrick

A new study shows that expanded learning time (ELT) programs are increasing in schools across the country - a movement that could cause some concern but also open new opportunities for after-school programs.

"Expanded Learning Time in Action," released in July by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a Washington-based liberal think tank, identified initiatives in high-poverty and high-minority schools in 30 states that were implemented between 1991 and 2007.

The study defined ELT programs, now in place in about 300 schools, as "whole-school" approaches that lengthen the school day, week or year for all students by 30 percent. ELT is gaining ground in the education reform movement as a way to equalize services in low-income school districts compared with their better-funded suburban counterparts, which tend to have a full array of expanded learning and enrichment activities after school. Some of the ELT and other reforms are funded by "equity" lawsuits that challenged state allocation of educational dollars among wealthy and non-wealthy school districts.

Historically, students in grades one through 12 attend school 180 days a year for 6½ hours a day. Many charter schools already extend learning hours beyond that.

Should after-school programs worry about the expansion of the school day?

Jen Rinehart, vice president for policy and research with the Afterschool Alliance, a national advocacy organization, thinks not. She notes that ELT programs won't work in every community, and said there will almost always be a need for after-school programs and community partners to provide enrichment services that extend even beyond an expanded school day.

Most proponents of ELT see it as complementing traditional after-school programs run by community-based organizations (CBOs). In fact, many advocates of after-school programs also back ELT initiatives - perhaps a sign of future expanded collaboration between those programs and the schoos. 

An example of such teamwork is seen in New York City's partnership with The After-School Corp. (TASC) to launch a three-year demonstration project to extend ELT programs to 11 public schools this fall.

Each participating school will partner with a lead community organization to plan and staff ELT activities that include not just academics, but also arts, service learning and fitness. But the TASC-managed initiative departs from its usual model of supporting CBO-operated after-school programs. In the New York demonstration, school principals will organize all resources for expanded-hours programming.

Lucy N. Friedman, president of TASC, said it was decided that expanded learning time "could be better utilized if it was integrated more with ... the traditional after-school programs," making the transition easier for students.

Despite the growth of ELT, the initiatives are in just a "tiny fraction" of schools around the country, largely because they cost "extra money," said Cynthia G. Brown, director of education policy at CAP. Increasing school time by 30 percent, CAP estimates, can raise school costs by 6 percent to 16 percent. 

Supporters of ELT programs got a boost recently when Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced a bill that would authorize hundreds of millions of dollars to expand learning time - based on efforts under way since 2004 in Massachusetts. Kennedy's bill was dubbed the Time for Innovation Matters in Education (TIME) Act; Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) introduced a similar, though less expensive, bill last year.

The CAP study excluded school and district efforts to expand learning time through before- and after-school programming, volunteer efforts or tutoring. The report detailed incremental steps some localities have taken to achieve full ELT implementation.  

Contact: "Expanded Learning Time in Action,", click on education. Watch excerpts from an ELT panel discussion online at