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New Federal Report Reviews Extended Learning Time Research

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A new U.S. Department of Education review of extended learning time research aims to help districts and schools figure out which approaches are most likely to prove beneficial. Overall, the report finds mixed academic results from the 30 studies it examined. But it highlights some promising design features, including the use of certified teachers for the extra time and targeting the initiatives to specific student needs, such as reading instruction.

The review was conducted by the Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia for the Department of Education's National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. It looks at studies—half published in the past five years—of expanded learning time schools, year-round schools, after-school programs, and summer programs. (Most of the studies examined out-of-school and summer programs serving elementary and middle school students.)

The first question the report's authors, Yael Kidron and Jim Lindsay of the American Institutes for Research, asked: Does the research show that expanded learning time benefits students?

Yes and no, they found.

"In some cases, the 30 studies found that increased learning time programs had a positive effect on student outcomes; in other cases the studies found no positive effect," Kidron and Lindsay write. "This suggests that no single increased learning time program fits the needs of all students."

For example, the studies the authors looked at show that expanded learning time programs improve the math and literacy skills of elementary students but not of middle school students. Increased learning time also appeared to improve the academic skills of students performing below academic standards and the social-emotional skills of students with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. And the research indicates that before- and after-school and weekend programs had a positive effect on students' academic motivation, but not on math or literacy achievement.

The research review finds that extended learning time programs are most effective when:

  • Certified teachers deliver the academic instruction.¬†Extended learning time programs that used graduate students or volunteers as teachers saw no effect on students' academic achievement, while programs that employed certified teachers had a small positive effect on literacy and math skills.
  • Time is spent on traditional instruction. Programs that offered organized lessons and skill demonstrations improved students' achievement while programs that provided students with more time and supervision to work independently did not.
  • Time is spent on experiential instruction. Programs that offered hands-on activities, project-based learning, and field trips had a small positive effect on students' self-esteem, self-regulation, and social behavior.
  • Programs target specific student subgroups. Programs tailored to groups like struggling readers that sought to improve specific skills tended to have a positive effect on student achievement.

Read the full report here.

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