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Expanded-Learning-Time Program Expands its Reach

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Twenty-one schools across the country are adding another 300 hours to their academic year as part of an expanded-learning initiative to help close the opportunity gap.

They'll join 20 other high-poverty, low-performing schools that have already lengthened their academic year through an initiative called Time for Innovation Matters in Education, or the TIME Collaborative, that Education Week first wrote about when it was launched in 2012.

The TIME Collaborative is a project of the Boston-based National Center on Time & Learning, which received $3 million from the Ford Foundation to help redesign the school day and strengthen teaching and learning in five partner states: Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee.      

NCTL survey responses.pngJennifer Davis,  co-founder and president of the NCTL, said schools in the first cohort are already making progress.

"Over the last three months, I have visited expanded-time schools in each of these states where I have seen impressive academic gains, engaged students, and dynamic teachers," Davis said in a news release announcing the expansion.

She recently returned from the Rochester City School District in upstate New York, where ten elementary schools in the collaborative bumped up the school day from six to eight hours. Superintendent Bolgen Vargas said it's going so well that he wants to add another five schools next year.

"We're seeing improvements in student attendance, student behavior, and student performance," Vargas said in a telephone call with Education Week.  

Scores on the New York State assessment increased in four of the first five schools in the TIME Collaborative between the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years, he said, with student achievement in math and English/language arts nearly doubling in one of them.

Vargas cautioned, though, that the success is not due simply to adding more time; it has to be more quality time and more effective use of the extra hours, and that takes time to put in place. He said the district was fortunate to receive a separate planning grant from the Ford Foundation giving teachers and administrators a year to rethink and re-create the school day to improve instruction, provide personalized learning, strengthen teacher professional development, and give low-income students access to the same enriching activities that are a mainstay in wealthier communities.

"When the majority of the students come from low socioeconomic backgrounds, you have to do something to mitigate poverty," explained Vargas. 

With 85 percent of its 32,000 students eligible for free and reduced price lunches, Rochester is one of the poorest districts in the state.  Expanded-learning-day schools added enrichment programs in music, sports, and theater, and, through local partnerships arranged for students to regularly visit museums and art galleries.  While students are engaged in those activities, teachers get essential time to plan and collaborate, Vargas said. 

Other TIME Collaborative schools have opened computer labs, developed hands-on science projects, started health and wellness programs, and brought in youth programs such as the 4H Club and Girl Scouts.  

The program is now reaching about 22,000 students and the NCTL expects that number will grow next year when another eight schools commit to the 300-hour expansion.  Although it's too soon for any formal research-based evaluations, results of NCTL surveys are generally positive. Nearly three-quarters of teachers reported that their students are more engaged in school, are learning to work collaboratively, and are better able to meet the Common Core State Standards. 

Davis is optimistic that these schools will serve as models for what's possible when parents, teachers, school and district leaders, and community groups come together "to create a school design focused on best practices and closing academic and opportunity gaps." 

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