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Expanded Learning Time Not Always a Cure-All, Report Says

Interest has increased in adding more time to the school day, but many schools are ill equipped to put time to the most effective use for improving student and school outcomes, says a new report from Education Sector, a Washington-based think tank focused on education policy.

In the report, Education Sector looks at nationwide trends with schools implementing expanded learning models, in addition to focusing on schools that used ELT as a turnaround strategy to receive federal School Improvement Grants.

According to "What More Learning Time Can (and Can't) Do for Turnarounds," a few approaches to expand learning have been used nationwide: adding time to the formal school schedule, expanding learning outside the regular school schedule, and changing the way time is used doing the school day. Examples of some of the innovative ELT models that have been effective in improving outcomes, such as the TASC model in New York, the Citizen Schools model in Boston, and the Providence After School Alliance model in Providence, are also profiled in the report.

While adding time to the formal school schedule has gained more appeal, particularly for policymakers as a solution for improving schools, more schools are actually still expanding learning through after-school, summer, and other efforts not tied to the traditional classroom day.

But not all ELT efforts nationally compare with those mentioned above, says report author Elena Silva, who I spoke with for a story on ELT this past fall.

For expanded time to be most effective, she writes, schools should not focus on the time itself but on connecting added time to other reforms. More schools, especially those serving the neediest students, are looking to ELT as a quick fix for improvement, but do not put enough effort into the "comprehensive reform" of their schools that ELT must be a part of to be effective. This is often due to lack of know-how or lack of supports, staffing, funding, and so forth, the article says, but as more schools look to add time, they should err on the side of caution, particularly as federal policymakers push ELT as a solution to improving underperforming schools.

"To suggest that our nation's worst schools will be transformed, and that student outcomes will improve because of more time, is not any different than suggesting that they will be transformed by more money," the report states. "Both are necessary, and both boast plenty of persuasive adages about why more is better. But both are overly simplistic treatments to the very complex problem of improving education."

Still, Silva says, this isn't to say ELT doesn't work, as there have been some very successful examples.

"But schools that have succeeded with extended time have done so largely because they include time as a part of a more comprehensive reform," she says. Successful models "are not just adding time to compensate for what they lack; they are integrating time into an overall model for successful teaching and learning."

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