Connecticut School’s Experience Raises Questions About Extended Learning Time

New Haven Public Schools

New Haven Public Schools

Kids at Brennan-Rogers, a New Haven, Conn., K-8 school, saw their school day lengthen an hour and 25 minutes in 2010 as part of a school reform effort. By March of that year, the longer school day was abandoned.

Extending the time kids spend in educational activities — in school or after school — has drawn keen interest among those committed to closing the achievement gap between affluent and low-income children.

However, the experience of one New Haven, Conn., school threw some cold water over efforts to extend the school day.

Detailed in a recent Education Week article, a turnaround plan for the low-performing K-8 Brennan-Rogers school began in 2010 with the addition of an hour and 25 minutes to the school day.

New Haven Public Schools

New Haven Public Schools

Brennan-Rogers is now a magnet school with 500 students. It was struggling in 2010, when Principal Karen Lott arrived to focus on a turnaround.

After the first year, Principal Karen Lott lopped off the extra time.

Today, Lott, whose focus is on turning around low-performing schools, is principal of Milner School in Hartford, Conn., and she has shortened that school’s schedule by 40 minutes for children.

Teachers, however, come in an hour before the children arrive at 8:45 and use the time for collaboration, preparation and professional development.

In effect, it’s extended learning time for teachers rather than for students.

Lott said she’s learned that support for the teachers must come first when seeking to turn around a school.

Back in 2010, “I was very eager and excited to embark on school transformation work with an extended day,” she said.

But an extended day “should be implemented strategically.” With a corps of new, young teachers at Brennan-Rogers, teacher support was a priority.

They needed time to collaborate, plan and develop additional instructional supports.

Without those things, “teachers were winging it” for eight long hours in front of a class.

“There was a degree of teacher fatigue,” Lott said. “We found a lot of students were fatigued by 3:00.”

“We increased the school day for the kids without any scaffolding of preparation of them,” she said.

One aspect of the longer day did work, however, she said. The extra time in the afternoon was used for club activities. The goal was to build relationships between teachers and students.

Kids could choose their club activity and usually worked with a teacher from another classroom.

In effect, the school used the  extra time in a method traditionally used by after-school  programs.

David Farbman, a senior researcher at the National Center on Time & Learning, wrote in a blog that Lott was hasty in scrapping the extended day. The National Center on Time & Learning is dedicated to expanding learning time.

It can takes at least three years for schools undergoing a reform effort to show academic gains, he wrote.

Jennifer Davis, co-founder and president of the center, said it was a mistake for Brennan-Rogers to return to a shorter school schedule.

The highest-performing schools serving high-poverty students have a longer day as a main part of their program, she said, pointing to the KIPP network of schools as an example.

“It’s a very important part of our reform agenda today in this country,” she said.