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Report Spotlights Use of Extended Learning Time With NCLB Waivers

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By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

States may not be taking full advantage of the opportunity to integrate expanded learning time into school-turnaround plans they have promised to deliver in return for receiving waivers from federal education law, according to a new analysis from a Washington think tank. The organization finds that most states failed to provide sufficient detail in their waiver applications on strategies they would pursue to provide more time for learning.

The report from the Center for American Progress also outlines steps it believes are critical to ensure the use of extra time is meaningful and makes the most of the opportunity.

Expanded learning time was identified by the U.S. Department of Education as one of seven principles for turning around low-performing schools that states should address as part of their plans to receive a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act.

"Research supports that it can be a promising way to increase student achievement," said Tiffany Miller, the associate director for school improvement at the Center for American Progress and author of the report. "It closes access to enrichment gaps and the disparity between wealthy and low-income students in the number of enrichment opportunities available to them."

Of the 42 states that applied for a NCLB waiver, though, the Center for American Progress only considered four to be "standout" states. These were Colorado, Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts. These states provided detailed information and examples of their plans for core academics, enrichment, and teacher collaboration.

Regarding expanded learning time, though, "most states just took boiler-plate language and said they would somehow increase learning time. They didn't specificy how they would go about doing that," said Miller.

Miller notes that studies have shown that expanded learning time works best when it's well-planned, intentional, and purposeful.

This analysis also touches on the additional flexibility allowed by the federal government for using funds under the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. These are funds that were previously restricted to use for activities during non-school hours. But with this latest wave of waivers, states had the option to use those grant funds to support expanded learning time during the school day as well.

That said, the report has some limitations. It was a strict analysis of what the states put on paper—not what they are actually implementing and the outcomes of that work.

The report urges state to develop plans that are both more clear about their intentions for using expanded learning time, and that embrace best practices. And, it notes that greater specificity will promote more meaningful accountability down the road.

"State plans ... should reflect their intentions for accountability and transparency purposes," it says. "Furthermore, state plans serve as guidelines for the Department of Education's monitoring process, and more detail and documentation is critical to the process."

That being said, the U.S. Department of Education didn't have requirements of waiver applicants to supply detailed plans for expanded learning time.

"That's something that we would have liked to have seen," said Miller. "But, knowing that that's not the case, the Department of Education is doing a lot to support increasing learning time."

The Center for American Progress report provides several recommendations for states. It says they should:

  • Develop guidelines promoting high-quality expanded learning time;
  • Produce a guide for school districts and principals that want to implement expanded learning time;
  • Encourage schools that choose to expand learning time to add 300 additional hours to the same school-year schedule, allowing more time for three key areas: academics, enrichment programming, and teacher collaboration; and
  • Outline how they will use their 21st Century Community Learning Center funds to increase learning time.

For districts and schools, the report recommends that they:

  • Implement additional time strategically through an intentional, one-year planning period if possible;
  • Use data analyses to strategically implement more time; and
  • Monitor the uses of additional time to gauge its impact.
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