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Report Probes Early Experience in Tennessee With Extended Learning Time

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The Tennessee comptroller's office released a legislative brief this month that gives a peek into how some of the state's low-performing schools are implementing extended learning time.

The study contains details that are potentially useful to educators and policymakers in other states who are trying to envision how extended learning could be implemented in their schools--and how much it might cost.

According to the report, 79 traditional public schools extended the school day beyond Tennessee's average 7-hour school day in 2012-13, adding up to 300 hours to a school year that's roughly 1,260 hours long. The 49 charter schools in the state also typically feature longer school days and/or years. Another 15 traditional schools and more charter schools implemented extended learning time in 2013-14.

Tennessee does not allocate any state funds specifically for extended learning time, so schools paid for the extra hours with federal grants, mostly from the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, which contains extended learning requirements, but does not specify how much time must be added to the school day. Districts also used federal dollars under the Title I program for disadvantaged students, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, and Race to the Top awards.

The TIME (Time for Innovation Matters in Education) Collaborative, a partnership between the National Center for Time and Learning and the Ford Foundation, is advising some schools in Knox County and the Metro Nashville Public Schools on how to most effectively use their additional 300 hours. (The Ford Foundation also supports Education Week's coverage of issues related to time and learning.)

There's variety in how Tennessee schools add extra time and how they use it, the report finds. At Buena Vista Elementary School in the Metro Nashville district, the school day is 45 minutes longer than the usual school day in the district, running from 8:00 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., and the extra time is used for reading intervention. Pearl Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School, also in Metro Nashville, adds a daily two-hour tutoring academy and offers an intercession that focuses on remediation, developing student leadership skills, and college access.

Costs also vary, depending on how each school uses its additional time. For example, one elementary school spends $27,300 a year on its after-school tutoring program for low-achieving students ($23,520 for four teachers, $2,940 for additional transportation, and $840 on snacks). Another elementary school spends $58,000 a year to add 1.5 hours to the school day, Monday through Thursday, for 3rd to 5th graders ($50,000 for teacher time, $7,000 for additional transportation, and $1,000 on snacks). Many schools keep expenses down by bringing in lower paid retired teachers and para-professionals, the researchers note.

Stretching the school day is a work in progress in Tennessee, and officials told researchers they were making adjustments as they go. One school told researchers it planned to change its schedule to start earlier rather than stay open later after administrators noticed that students and teachers rushed home and chatted with each other less after a late dismissal. A later end to the day also reduced opportunities for students to participate in sports after school, they noted.

Another school tried student-chosen electives during the additional 30 minutes it added to the school day, but decided that ACT prep sessions for 11th graders and an online-reading program for 9th graders were a more valuable use of extra time.

Alas, the study does not assess whether extended learning time is improving student performance in Tennessee. Citing reviews of existing research, the writers note that the jury's still out on whether more time leads to increased achievement, though extended learning time programs that are structured and focused seem to have the most benefit. Also, several studies have shown that disadvantaged students get more of an academic boost than their wealthier classmates from more time in school, the researchers say.

A Personal Note

By the way, regular readers of this blog may notice a new face (and name) in the top right corner. That's me, Samantha Stainburn. I'm the new blogger for Time and Learning, and will be posting from New York City. In the early 2000s, I was the managing editor of Teacher Magazine (an Education Week publication that has since evolved into the online Teacher channel), and now I write about education, business, and culture for a variety of publications, including The New York Times. Have an innovative use of time in learning to share—or complain about? I welcome tips at samstainburn (at) gmail (dot) com. You can also find me on Twitter: @SamStainburn.

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