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Closing the Opportunity Gap Through Expanded Learning: A How-to Guide

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In what may be the most comprehensive blueprint for expanded learning, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform this week released the "Time for Equity" report, which is part how-to guide, part success stories, and part aggregation of leading research.

Annenberg researchers studied a variety of expanded-learning-time approaches in Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark, and Rochester, N.Y., that received grants through the Ford Foundation's More and Better Learning Time initiative. (Ford also helps support Education Week's coverage of more and better learning time.) 

The authors identified a set of 24 indicators culled from model programs that schools and community organizations can use as benchmarks for developing, evaluating, and improving educational opportunities for students attending the nation's poorest schools.

"This initiative is really about how can we use our public education system to make sure more kids have access to richer, broader learning opportunities," said Michelle Renée, a co-author of the report. "People told us these [indicators] really matter to know if their work is making a difference."

The indicators were grouped into four broad categories

  • Creating and sustaining the conditions to support the programs, such as involving teachers; giving students, parents, and the community a say in the mission and vision; and maintaining open communication.
  • Ensuring equitable access and implementation by providing support services such as transportation, meals, and health programs; letting students help shape the activities; and providing time for teacher to collaborate.
  • Preparing students for college, careers, and civic life by going beyond academics with activities that build leadership and communication skills, technology know-how, and social-emotional learning.
  • Creating systemwide changes that make it easier to replicate programs.

"All of these initiatives are pushing for a much broader understanding of learning and achievement that goes way beyond just taking tests," Renée explained. "They're looking at social-emotional learning, they're looking at health and well-being, they're looking at community engagement as measures of what it means to be educated and prepared for college."

The Stanley E. Foster School of Engineering, Innovation, and Design in San Diego, for example, is a career- and college-pathway school certified in the Linked Learning approach. Students take a sequence of hands-on courses in construction, engineering, or architecture and participate in industry internships. They also complete all the classes required for admission to the University of California and California State University systems.  

In Denver, public schools in the Generation Schools Network increased the school year to 200 days without increasing teachers' work time.  Instead, they stagger teacher vacations. With the additional time, students take three-hour studio courses, some required and some elective.

Some Denver schools added an hour to the school day, giving teachers time for collaboration and professional development and providing students with enrichment opportunities and what Suzanne Morey, the principal of McGlone Elementary School, calls a "high-dosage tutoring program."  Fourth graders at the school have a double period of math—an hour in the classroom, and an hour with a tutor in groups of no more than three children.

"Un, deux, trois, quatre," counts a ballet teacher in French at Johnson Elementary School, shown in a video of the extended-day program leading a group of young girls through pointing exercises.  

"Kids who live in communities of affluence have access to things like ballet whenever they want it; kids in our community rarely do," says Johnson Elementary's principal, Rob Beam, in the video.

The schools also offer classes in broadcast journalism, improv acting, gang prevention, and scouting, plus they have partnerships with museums and the Denver Zoo.

At Denver's Grant-Beacon Middle School, students can study aerospace and build rockets in an elective taught by a parent, Liz Kailey, who is also a flight instructor.

Interviewed for the video, Kailey is passionate about the possibilities for students. "If they find something in enrichment that they really love, it's going to motivate them, it's going to make them want to come to school and make them want to learn and want to achieve," she said.

The year before the extended day started, about 15 percent of Grant-Beacon students attended after-school programs, acknowledges Principal Alex Magaña in the video. "Now, I have 100 percent of our students participating in structured activities that meet their individual needs," Magaña said.

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