Expanded Learning Time Gains

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A new study shows that expanded learning time (ELT) programs are increasing across the country, but so far these extensions of the school day, week or even year are in place in only about 300 schools.

“Expanded Learning Time in Action,” released in July by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a D.C.-based liberal think tank, identified initiatives in high-poverty and high-minority schools across 30 states that were implemented between 1991 and 2007. The report, based on 2.5 years of research, also sought to begin the effort to identify the impact of more school time on student achievement, although assessments of effectiveness were more anecdotal than scientific.

The study defined ELT programs generally as “whole-school” approaches that lengthen the school day, week or year for all students by 30 percent. It excluded school and district efforts to expand learning time through before- and after-school programming, volunteer efforts or tutoring. The report detailed several incremental steps some localities have taken to achieve full ELT implementation. (Historically, grade one-12 students attend school 180 days a year for 6.5 hours a day.)

ELT programs are 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 fully array of expanded learning and enrichment activities after school. Some of the ELT and other reforms are funded by “equity” lawsuits that challenge state allocation of educational dollars among wealthy and non-wealthy school districts.

Most proponents of ELT see it as complementing traditional after-school programs run by community-based organizations (CBOs). Still, ELT programs are in just a “tiny fraction” of schools around the country, largely because fiscal equity for students “costs 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 underway 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 (H.R. 3642) last year.

Many advocates of traditional after-school programs also back ELT initiatives – perhaps a sign of future expanded collaboration between schools and community-based after-school groups.

An example of such teamwork is seen in New York City’s partnership with The After-School Corporation (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 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 existing and new resources for expanded-hours programming. Per-student spending will be roughly $1,600, according to TASC. 

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.
But if the ELT movement spreads – about a third of charter schools already extend learning hours beyond the historical schedule – could long-time after-school programs be left out?

Jen Rinehart, vice president for policy and research with the Afterschool Alliance, a national advocacy organization, doesn’t think so. For one thing, ELT programs won’t work in every community, she said, and there will almost always be a need for after-school programs and community partners to provide a variety of enrichment services extending even beyond an expanded traditional school day.

“This is a very young movement and it’s important to see the difference that it’s making and how it’s working out in a lot of places before we really try to take it to any big scale,” Rinehart said. 

Contact: Center for American Progress report, “Expanded Learning Time in Action,” http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2008/07/elt_report1.html. Watch excerpts from an ELT panel discussion online at http://bravenewfilms.org/blog/46497-schools-expanding-learning-time.