The mantra of "not enough time in the day" continues to resonate in education, as the use of additional time pushes forward as a possible school reform strategy.
The recent announcement that states can opt out of some of No Child Left Behind's school accountability requirements if they have well-structured plans for school reform touches the out-of-school-time realm. The federal Department of Education listed "redesigning the school day, week, or year to include additional time for student learning and teacher collaboration" as one of the turnaround principles schools should look to when trying to improve. In addition, states that receive waivers will have the flexibility to use 21st Century Community Learning Center funding for expanding the school day, according to the waiver-flexibility guidelines released by the Education Department.
In the past few months, the 21st CCLC funding stream has been a tension point for those working in the extended and expanded learning world, as legislation continues to be proposed that would change the way this funding is used. On Capitol Hill, competing bills were proposed this past summer on whether the fundingwhich has traditionally supported after-school programscan be used to fund expanded learning time schools. A more recent proposal, however, would consolidate the 21st CCLC funding stream with other streams to be issued as block grants to states, used at their discretion for a number of education needs.
Yet the flexibility provision of the new waiver proposal highlights another issue entirely: What is the definition of expanded learning time, and, if there is federal funding used to support it, how should schools structure it and how should they be held accountable for using added time for school improvements?
Some OST advocates are worried the waiver provision, while positive in its encouragement of using ELT to reform schools, offers too little guidance on how to define and use the expanded school day models.
According to a policy brief recently released by the Washington-based Center for American Progress, schools may think they have used extra time for school turnaround, but the time added may be too minimal or unstructured to see impacts and results. There needs to be more guidance on how to use time well and how to use time as a reform strategy, the brief's author, Isabel Owen, writes.
"Because of the limited federal guidance around expanded learning time, it is easy for states to satisfy the requirement by tacking more minutes onto the end of the day or hours onto the end of the year," the brief states. "Instead of this timid step, however, states should consider increasing learning time as a catalyst for whole school redesign."
"Critics are right to point out that more time spent doing the same things will not change a school, [but] schools that have seen the greatest improvements in student achievement by adding time to the schedule did so by redesigning the way time is used," she adds.
CAP recently hosted an event on expanded learning time, with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan serving as the keynote speaker.
Others think it's not only federal guidance that's needed. Lucy Friedman, president of The After-School Corporation issued some reflections on the waiver flexibility, also warning of a misuse of added time. TASC, based in New York City, is an intermediary organization that works both with after-school programs and expanded learning time schools.
"We believe the most cost-effective, sustainable, and productive way to expand the learning day is for schools to partner with community organizations to offer significantly more time for learning, an approach that multiplies the talent and resources of both teams by uniting them in meeting shared goals for students," Friedman says. "While giving states more flexibility to deploy 21st CCLC funds, the federal government should require community partners to be a part of any strategy."