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Is Extended Time a Silver Bullet?

The U.S. Department of Education’s  Doing What Works website lists increasing time as a “quick win” strategy for turning around the nation’s lowest performing schools, but a report this spring from Education Sector finds the truth is far more complex. The report, Off the Clock: What More Time Can (and Can’t) Do for School Turnarounds, found that Extended Learning Time (ELT) is just like any other resource—what matters most is how it is used.

More than 90% of schools receiving Federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) are using a school improvement strategy that incorporates extended time. However, the results of this extra time vary widely. According to the report,

Some of the [SIG schools] described comprehensive, well-designed strategies to substantially increase student learning time and use that time well.  But others included strategies like—absurdly—shaving a few minutes off recess and lunch and redirecting them to “instruction.” Far too many SIG grantees showed a lack of capacity—the staff, the structures, the funds—to gain enough time to make a difference or to use that time well…. There is an enormous difference between time that is technically allocated for instruction and time spent authentically engaging students in learning.

The report describes the three approaches SIG schools are using: adding time to the school day, expanding time outside of school, and changing the way they use time.

  • Expanding time outside of school avoids the costs and complications of restructuring teachers’ schedules but often relies on outside providers, which comes with their own costs and complications.
  • Schools that choose to change the way they use time often plan to add time for instruction by decreasing non-instructional time — lunch, recess, or the time allotted for students to move between classes — which research shows isn’t likely to improve student achievement.
  • Adding time to the school day is often the most effective approach for using expanded time, but the report found that it’s the least common approach chosen by SIG grantees, “largely because it is expensive and typically means changing teacher work schedules.”

As the report states, “Not all time in school has the same impact on learning. While this may be obvious to educators who struggle to balance time spent directing and disciplining students with time spent actually teaching them, it is a significant practical consideration for education leaders and policymakers.”

Connecticut educators plan to use extended time wisely

Here in Connecticut the Commissioner’s Network, created by the state’s new education reform legislation, provides a turnaround process for the lowest performing schools. The additional funds allotted to Network Schools allow them to add time to the school day, and the mandated inclusion of teachers in the turnaround process means that educators’ knowledge of quality time and instruction is being included, according to district reports provided to the State Department of Education.

Representatives for the Bridgeport Education Association and Norwich Teachers League spoke to the State Board of Education last week about how the turnaround plans for their districts make effective use of extended time. The descriptions below are from the summaries of the applications Norwich and Bridgeport submitted to the State Board.

Curiale Elementary School, Bridgeport
The overall goal is to extend the school day and year to achieve a minimum of 300 additional hours. In order to make the extended day model sustainable, some staff will come in 44 minutes before the regular opening time and some will come in 44 minutes after the regular opening time. This will allow Curiale to add 88 minutes to each day without extending teacher schedules. Curiale will also extend the school year by five days for all staff and students. Teachers will have at least one double planning period per week. The school day will be reconfigured to create a 90 minute uninterrupted literacy block and a 60 minute mathematics block. The extended time will have a consistent and enriching curriculum. Additionally, planning periods will be devoted more to planning instruction, rather than just data analysis.

Stanton School, Norwich
Goals include increasing instructional time to provide implementation of appropriate interventions to ensure vertical scale movement of all students. Starting in the second trimester, the instructional day for each student will increase by one hour, accumulating to 123 additional instructional hours for each student in 2012-2013 (the extra hour in the first trimester will be used for professional development purposes). This will increase to 211.5 total additional hours in year two and 300 hours by year three. The school also plans on increasing the instructional time by auditing in-class activities and programs, increasing opportunities for learning in the summer and afterschool by adding classes aligned to Norwich Public School’s curriculum.

Both initiatives involve collective bargaining to assess the salary impact of altered teaching schedules.

The report from Education Sector concludes,

New designs for extended time should be a part of the nation’s school improvement plans. But policymakers and school leaders must recognize that successful schools use time not just to extend hours and days but to creatively improve how and by whom instruction is delivered. In the end, the ELT movement is more likely to leave a legacy of school and student success if it becomes less about time and more about quality teaching and learning.

One Comment
  1. Michael #

    I am concerned that our youngest students may be negatively impacted by school days that are too long. I suppose balance is the key.

    August 17, 2012

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