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Expanded Learning Time


In a recent Education Week commentary, S. Paul Reville, who is a co-chairman of the National Center on Time and Learning, argues that schools should expand instruction time in order to meet new demands for achievement and accountability in reading and math.

Failure to do so, he writes, could result in a narrowing of the curriculum as other subjects—music and art, for example—become crowded out.

What do you think? Does learning time in school need to be expanded to accommodate new demands? And if so, how?



Standardized testing has its place in education, but NCLB has blown it completely out of proportion. To think that anyone can use one measure to judge a child's knowledge, a teacher's proficiency or a school's success is just crazy. No one would suggest that you purchase stock of a company based on just one indicator, like price to earnings ratio. Why would we ever accept that a single test result would tell us everything we need to know about a child's learning?

I am all for moving the country to year round school, but let's not do it because NCLB is doing such a fine job that. As a businessman, I see students "graduating" from "non-failing" high schools without the basic skills needed to have them be successful at work. These skills are not tested by standardized tests and are not in the reading and math areas. It does not do any good to have gateway skills, if the gate doesn't lead to anywhere. What good are math skills if the child does not know how to apply that math in a different context?

Politicians would like to have a simple, easy to understand tool to judge the performance of schools. That's not reality. Education is a messy, organic, individualized experience, and, just like open debate cannot be reduced to sound bites, the educational process cannot be standardized, because students do not come standardized.

Let's move away from our agrarian school year because it's more efficient and kids don't forget loads of information over the summer, not because we want to continue to teach kids how to take tests, as opposed to mastering the content.


Extending the school day or extending the school year could help some students, but it will not be without costs. One such cost is the time lost from the students' participation in family and community activities, or even time alone to think and dream. Another cost will be financial -- don't think teachers are going to spend more hours working without more pay. As a high school math teacher, I already spend much of my "off-duty" time tutoring students, planning lessons, grading papers and attempting to keep up with research on best practices, as do my coworkers. During the summer vacation, many teachers spend time taking courses to enhance their professional qualifications, as well as working at their schools to improve the curriculum. Adding more hours and days to the regular schedule may squeeze teachers' time to the point that you lose them to less-demanding and better-paid professions.

Perhaps we as a nation need to have a real debate about what we want every school to accomplish and what we're willing to pay to achieve it. Arguments about length of school days or whether reading is more important than art are just the tip of the iceberg -- we need to get a consensus on what a primary and secondary education really should be and then design the curricula and school years to support that concept.

"What do we give up?" is a phrase I am tired of using. The effective use of instructional time is not a formulaic solution to a mathematics problem. It courses much deeper through our society and culture. Having weathered more than a quarter of a century in education I feel I have earned at least some say in what I choose to teach when and how it should be done.
The simple answer is that there is no simple answer; our world becomes more complex by the moment and children are constantly learning more and more about it. The question that arises is as to whether this is really knowledge they need at this time. Teaching is an enormous responsibility and it is concomitant upon us as recognized professionals to fight to be allowed to practice our craft.
What an absurdity, if we dictated to doctors who they could treat and how or we said to artists what is art and what is not. But, wait . . . we do those things in this modern world just as we tell educators that all children will do this, at this minute, of this hour, of this day, of this year, everywhere in our rapidly shrinking world. The only thing that should be 100% in education is opportunity. Ergo, does increasing teaching time equal greater opportunity?
Just because I spend more hours teaching reading to a child doesn't make them any more ready to embrace the skill if they have not been prepared for learning properly. I spent a large portion of my childhood throwing rocks at elusive muskrats and climbing trees. Was that time wasted? Should it have been spent locked in a classroom learning how to properly use a semi-colon or the definition of 'rigor'?
Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that as teachers, we are always preparing for the unknown. We cannot foresee the needs of the child who grows to an adult. In early childhood and primary education, we may not even be around to see the result. All we can do is say, "I believe you will need to know this, to be a person who is able to think and grow, no matter the world you dwell in."

Of course we need more time.

And everything in Paul Reville’s commentary makes sense to this inner city high school teacher except one conclusion. Based on his logic and evidence, we should abandon NCLB. NCLB makes sense only if you believe that its crude accountability must be the cornerstone of any effort to get more money to poor schools. But if we just redefine accountability as one component of reform, numerous opportunities arise.

More time is the answer. OK, show us the money. More than a dozen years of his efforts to “right size the school day” have made little progress. Now that we’ve spent tens of billions of on a law than has done little more than start a conversation, and which may be damaging the poorest children, how does reauthorization create an ideal opportunity? Wasting more billions, and forcing more poor kids out of school by narrowing the curriculum and imposing non-stop test prep, will persuade legislators to invest billions more?

Its easy for someone in the rich state of Massachusetts to stay the course, but how many generations of my poor district’s poor students must be sacrificed to that political approach? My attitude on this is comparable to my attitude toward high stakes standardized testing. If you like those strategies, use them in your own state or your own classroom. But unless you can get 51% of my state legislature, or you can replace my proven approach of REAL rigor, relevance, and two decades of relationships, don’t impose either on my kids.

The narrowing of the curriculum is less destructive than the imposition of test prep for primitive standardized test. And the logic of NCLB is comparable. Better tests will reduce the damage. But again, show us the better test. And show us the money for it.

Education Week had an excellent quote by Reville, “We don’t want kids sitting in their desks racing to finish a six-hour day until they get to some physical activity, art, or music.” I agree, and neither do we want them waiting six hours a day for another 12 years for the money.

I don’t doubt that NCLB has helped poor kids in districts that have two or three times the money, per capita, of mine. A much better way to pry open the budget in my conservative state would be a collaborative effort to teach the whole child, show some real results, adopt a reasonable accountability system, and get back to real rigor, relevance, and relationships for poor kids in poor districts - not just poor kids in rich districts.

Though the decision of whether or not to expand the learning time in school will not affect me and my students, I'd like to give opinion on the issue.

Expanding the learning time at school will not guarantee any significant progress in reading and Math automatically unless the intention is for drilling. The responsibility of learning is on the shoulders of the students, let's not forget about that. The best thing that a teacher can do is modifying the content of his/her teaching in order to meet the new demand and also motivating the students. Learning to share the responsibility of educating students with the parents and the community will be good, too.

There is no need to eliminate subjects like music and art from the curriculum since they are important to balance the learning.

Based on my own experience and education, I do not believe that simply increasing school hours will necessarily result in academic improvement. In fact, if we continue to implement the same ineffective interventions for more hours we may decrease motivation and reinforce academic errors, particularly with students with learning disabilities. I recommend using research validated curriculum and on-going progress monitoring during the regular school hours, with the goal of encouraging students to enjoy their childhoods both during and after school.

Expanding the school day, or the school year without expanding the motivation to attend school for longer periods of time and to study certain subjects more intensely, seems to me to be counterproductive. The school day has been expanded by nearly a full hour to accomodate the changing lifestyle and working habits of the general U.S. household. If the kearning is not happening in the average 7 hour school day, expanding it to 8 or 9 hours is not going to make the learning more palatable.

Across the country, some schools and school leaders are turning to extended day in response to the increased accountability pressures of NCLB, combined with the ongoing desire to offer children and youth an array of enriching activities, like physical fitness and the arts. There’s good reason to consider extending learning time. On average, children spend only 20 percent of their waking hours in school.

But, while extending the school day sounds simple enough, we must be very careful about the content of the additional time. More time to do more of the same is not enough. An extended day must truly extend kids’ learning, by building on what they learn in the traditional school day and bringing new opportunities and teachers to them.

Afterschool providers have long recognized that learning doesn’t stop at 3 PM and that the hours after school provide an opportunity to keep children and youth safe, to inspire them to learn and help them get the skills they need to succeed academically, socially and professionally.

With decades of experience behind them, afterschool programs have learned what kinds of opportunities earn the best results for kids. Content matters. School-community partnerships matter. It’s not just extending time, but providing quality, engaging, enriching learning opportunities during that time. Afterschool programs are successfully expanding learning by making good use of extended time to offer new and different ways of learning -- and a growing body of evidence shows that the afterschool approach to learning works.

Policy makers and education leaders interested in extending the school day should take a close look at afterschool programs. All across the country, afterschool programs are supporting students’ in-school learning and offering new learning experiences through partnerships with organizations in the community. Together, schools and community partners can truly extend learning and prepare our youth for the future.

To read more visit http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/issue_briefs/issue_expand_learn_29.pdf

First of all, teaching to the test does not motivate or facilitate a student to embrace lifelong learning. In my opinion, that is a very critical element in preparing students to meet the challenges of an ever-changing world.

In addition, I firmly believe that NCLB was mostly designed to further undermine the achievement of low SES, children of color. I am ever mindful of Martin Luther King Jr.'s caution to "beware the paralysis of analysis".

I have just finished reading "Inequality at the Starting Gate", and can't help wondering why more study and research has not been done to learn why newly immigrant Asian and African students excel in US schools. So much research is devoted to comparative studies between US.Euro-Ameircan middle class students and low SES, children of color. Why?? You can't build on what's not working. In my way of thinking about things, we need to identify what is working for those children who come to us as students from other countries, for example, the foreign exchange students. I hosted a number of foreign exchange students in my home. They came from Korea, Japan, South America, Spain, France, Belgium, Italy, and Germany. They could not understand why the course work in high school was so difficult for American students. They found our coursework easy--not riguorous at all. Students from several different countries explained to me that their class day was much longer than ours and several also explained that in their high schools, biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, trichonometry, and English were required every year, and not sequential as it is in the US.

Bill and Melinda Gates, who are business-minded, approached the foundation of their math and science charter schools, by first identifying foundational necessary ingredients--they are relationships, rigor, and relevance. Uri Bronfenbrenner and other developmental psycologists agree that learning happens within the context of caring relationships. Hard to develop relationships with 160 different students every semester in middle and high schools. These are just my thoughts.

The reason Asian students do well is because their lives have been set on a steady course by the 2,500 year old tradition of Confucianism. If you read about it, you'll immediately see the connection.

I say, keep kids at school all day long. Have them spend the night at school, too. While there, they can be directed to do something other than watch TV and listen to family arguments. Maybe they can go home for a while on weekends.

Our American society is packed to the brim with parents who are not engaged with their children or with the demands of effective childrearing. This mentality is passed up the chain to our legislators who reflect it by their lack of meaningful child advocacy.

The absence of adequate parental responsibility is visible every time you see a 9-year-old prancing around in sexy clothes that her mother thinks are cute, when a mother exposes her 5-year-old to an R-rated movie because she herself wants to see it, by the general lack of involvement that too many parents have with their children's educations, by the excessive amount of TV that American children watch, by the reluctance of parents to exert control over the junk food that their children consume despite the fact that they know better, by the casual manner with which parents divorce (that is, if they have bothered to marry), and by the ease with which divorced fathers fade away from their children's lives.

We are a very unhealthy society. We think we're the greatest, but we are lazy and deluded. Just take an honest look at the kids our country is producing. Too many are physically and mentally unsound.

So keep the kids at school for long, long days. At this point, maybe Government Institutions can do a better job than the children's Homes.

Learning time in school does not necessarily need to be expanded for all students. Education reform has given us the standards movement and direction toward fiscal equity. Both of these have been helpful. But how about pedagogical reform?

FACT: Children learn at different rates. Some kids pick concepts up immediately and are then ready to move to the next concept/skill. At the same time, other kids in the same class might need more time to grasp the same material. That's okay and, in fact, IT SHOULD BE AN ACCEPTED PEDAGOGICAL PRACTICE IN US SCHOOLS. Sadly, teaching in this country is not conducted in this manner. Ninety percent or more of the instruction in US public schools is whole group instruction. This is absolute insanity.

Why are teacher colleges not preparing tomorrow's teachers to customize/individualize instruction for each child? Three possible reasons: They were not taught this way when they were in school, they were not trained this way when they were in college, and it's more work. Educators constantly attempt to compare themselves with their medical and legal counterparts. Do doctors call all their patients into their office each day and treat them all for the same malady? Do attorneys call all of their clients into the office each day and counsel them regarding the same legal problem? If either of these professions ran their business the way teachers run their classrooms they'd be out of business by the end of the month.

Why must we continue on this road to overwhelming some kids in the class while at the same time boring others? It's not right, and worse, it's not fair to our students. Come on! Wake up to this pragmatic solution to this age old problem. Longer school day or year is not what's needed. What's needed is a paraidgm shift in the delivery system in our public schools. If we cn IEP's for special ed youngsters we can address the varying rates of learning for all our other students.

For some time now, even prior to NCLB, I have known that school systems should move to a 7:30 - 5:00 day, five days a week, 12 months of the year with brief breaks. Our current structure is based on the age of agriculture. We are prone to stick with "the way things have always been" and ignore what is best for our children. School systems should address the core four areas making sure our children learn how to think; mathematically, scientifically, logically. This should be the focus during the early part of the day for elementary children and mid-morning for adolescent learners. The remainder of the day should be dedicated to the liberal arts and physical education inclusive of sports/practice. Of course methods need to change to ensure children are actively engaged in their learning tasks and within these tasks there is the presence of relationships, relevancy and rigor. Each and every child can benefit from extended learning time. Recent data from Ed Trust out of Washington DC document even the wealthier students from the US are far behind their peer in other developed countries. Wake up America!!!!!!

When I went to school, think middle ages, our teachers didn't have all of the extra garbage to deal with, just education.
Once I got to high school we had an 8-1/2 hour day in which we could mix and match our core requirements and electives.
We had a really wide range of options on that menu, including shops and all of the technical disciplines.
I went to summer school to take basic classes such as English and math so that I could fit the other classes into my schedule.
I had to do this because litho shop and aviation shop were not offered during the summer, just the core.
While we had no Philosophy course we did have an ancient history course where we learned philosophy.
I was fortunate to have four years of science, math and English, two years of foreign language, three and a half of history and civics, two years of drafting and two years of shops, wood, electric, aviation and lithography.
That litho course included the psychology of color and the importance of layout to sell a product.
Those would not fit into the current "exhausting" 6 hour days that I see in our public high school system.
The schools should be all about opportunities to learn not the emphasis on testing to meet some federal mandates.
My parents shaped my expectations and I am so glad they did.
I used every single thing I learned in that high school in my businesses.

I would wonder about more efficient ways of teaching first, perhaps flexible grouping and meeting students on their level instead of imposing the "one size fits all" solution so common today. My homeschooled neighbors are very well-schooled and have more play time than children who attend school.

Wanda Cahill made an important statement: "Perhaps we as a nation need to have a real debate about what we want every school to accomplish and what we're willing to pay to achieve it." I would take that a step further: As a nation, we must decide what we want our society to look like during the coming generations, and then we must determine what it will take to get there. Let's do some backward planning so that we make effective use of both students' and educators' time, to everyone's benefit. As someone has said, the society we have today is a direct product of American schools, and so we must begin with our vision for the future of American society in constructing our ideal view of American schools.

Children unmotivated to come to school and when they do come to school, unmotivated to participate in school. Parents letting the schools "raise" their children and having a hands-off policy when it comes to even assisting their children with homework or long-term projects. Administrators who have never set foot inside a classroom but have a degree in school admininstration.

All of the above have an impact into how a child learns, yet are they being held accountable? Is there is a "law on the books" for holding each of the above groups to a higher standard to do so? No, it is the teacher's responsibility to be sure every child, parent and administrator is placated and getting what they want.

Sometimes, as a teacher, you can just do so much with what you have to work with!

Take a look at schools in our country that ARE already working. Montessori schools across the nation manage time differently than our traditional model. Some time is spent every day in large and small groups of children for the important work of developing relationships, building community, promoting service learning, applying skills and modeling high expectations for self-management of learning and behavior. But the grand majority of a child's time is direted by the child!! Students learn to manage their own time, spending most of it in the pursuit of knowledge independently, or with a peer, or in individual or small-group lessons with a teacher. From a young age, students learn to manage two- to three-hour blocks of time productively. Not only does this heighten their academic experience, but it also provides ample opportunity for social and personal growth.

Montessori schools have rigorous curricula. Elementary content and concepts are comparable to or exceed high-school state standards in both gateway skills and the myriad cultural subjects, and students learn this material readily and completely. They also learn to be responsible and accountable for their own learning.

Montessori schools already make good use of time, have flexible grouping, offer a broad range of subjects which all children study, offer extended learning experiences in their communities, challenge students in their stong suits and support them in their weak areas, teach the whole child, and have high expectations of ethical behavior and mutual respect. As these students pursue higher education or enter the work force, they are confident, intrinsically motivated and well-prepared intellectually. They are able to apply their learning and work effectively with others. These are the qualities that recent research by educators has highlighted as important for children in the new millenium.

The billions of dollars being wasted could be better spent in teacher education reform and then school reform, to provide this kind of education for every child.

Is a longer school day or school year really needed? It won't help solve the problems that are currently embeded in our public schools across this great country. If longer time is offered, those in charge of our education system will insist that this time be filled with more paperwork and meetings used to prove that our students are exceeding the requirements or for developing plans for those students who may be struggling in class. None of this will change anything until all students accept the responsibility for their education. Teachers can only do so much and extending the school day or shoveling money at the problem will not bring a solution to the problems facing our schools. Teachers do the best they can with what parents send to their classrooms everyday. You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it take a drink....until it is ready for a drink.

opinions may vary...

I am glad to see so many thoughtful comments here responding to another proposal for extended day or year-round school. I would urge anyone considering the further institutionalization of people (students, teachers. . .) via expanded instructional time to stop, immediately. Given the poor quality of instruction already present in my child's school, I am considering granting him a "leave of absence," a sabbatical if you will, for at least one year so he can enjoy pursuing curiosities, questions, actual learning, projects, or something beyond 120 uninterrupted minutes of the Learn-to-Hate-Reading block (!!) He comes home stressed, bored, unthinking, dulled, and uninspired at least 3 days per week and he's not significantly different from other kids. I shudder to think what would be zapped out of him in a longer school day or year. Change the school day radically to include meaningful pursuits? Yes. Extend it? No.

I think we spend enough time already at school and kids need time to go home and play outside and explore. Homework many times takes so much time that children can't be children. I think we need to cut out the assessing that is over done and let kids think. We need to challenge them to think outside the box. We say to do this then we say there can only be one right answer. I'm confused so I know they are.

Children will play no matter what! We need to think about the children in poverty who need structure in their learning. Americans as a rule seem to think about the population that they identify. I think assessment is a natural consequence of learning. The confusion comes about with the disparity among school populations. Some schools are highly populated by students who are more likely to respect authority (elementary). Other schools have a high population of students who are less likely to respect authority. However, federal monies is given out equally. Money from states, marked for incentive pay goes to the former population. I wonder if this is fair to the teachers who are working deligently to these students.

Paul, your commentary was interesting and provocative. However, honestly, the only sentence that was realistic was when you said “easier said than done.” Of course “right-sizing” our schools would go along way to curing the ills of our country’s educational infrastructure – but as others have pointed out, who would pay for it? Do you think Congress, all 50 state legislatures and all other school revenue sources are going to pony up more money for education? Look at the funding battles we have now – and not just in Congress, but in each individual state legislature. Your commentary makes for great coffee-break discussions, but the reality is it’s pie-in-the-sky.

The common complaint is not having enough time. We do need to look at the objectives our students are expected to learn, and understand that brain research tells us that some of these objectives are not appropriate at that age.

We have also turned our schools into a sort of "Wal-Mart", we got it all here approach. Schools are expected to do much more than just teach core subjects. We deal with medical, psychological, physical, socialogical, and many other needs.

Schools have and are increasingly become replacements to parenting or grandparenting. This is a very serious problem....

I keep reminding myself, the level education is a lot better now than it was when I was in school....

More time with test prep practice does not make better students! Students need to be exposed to a rich world of learning opportunities and minimal practice taking the tests. Schools that are going to longer days and years, are reacting to lower NCLB test scores. Those poor kids are sitting in rows longer practicing the same skills they've failed to master over and over and over! More of the same does not help.

Kids also need time to play, think, socialize...be kids! Longer time in school means after homework kids will eat dinner and sleep at home. Perhaps NCLB should be amended not the schools!!!

I’ve enjoyed following the discussion about expanded learning time and am pleased to see that it’s provoking such a dynamic debate. As President & CEO of the new National Center on Time and Learning, I’m familiar with many of the concerns you’ve raised. We’re in full agreement with your suggestions that more time doesn’t mean more of the same.

Our experience has shown that additional time has given schools more freedom for innovation. Schools have redesigned their schedules to allow for more common planning time for teachers, to include community-based organizations as part of the school day, and to provide enriching academic opportunities that meet the needs of diverse learners.

Here’s what we believe:

1) We agree that more time doesn’t have to mean more of the same. In fact, we’ve witnessed that learning can be greatly enhanced by providing the time to engage in more project-based and experiential learning—something that can be supported by partnerships with local organizations and institutions of higher education.

2) We believe that afterschool and community-based partnerships can and should be an integral part of a child’s learning experience, and we advocate for embracing those partnerships as part of an expanded day. In our pilot schools, students are going swimming and learning drumming, dance, filmmaking, and Mandarin Chinese--all as part of the school day.

3) We encourage using the additional time for professional development and common planning time, two things teachers have identified as being critical to their own learning.

As we continue to meet with schools, parents, children and teachers interested in rethinking the school day, know that we’ll carry your message that it’s time for change. If you’re interested in learning more about our work, please visit www.timeandlearning.org.

Jennifer Davis
President & CEO
National Center on Time and Learning

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Recent Comments

  • Jennifer Davis, President, National Center on Time & Learning: I’ve enjoyed following the discussion about expanded learning time and read more
  • Tracy teacher/parent: More time with test prep practice does not make better read more
  • Ritchie / Principal: The common complaint is not having enough time. We do read more
  • Fred Deutsch School Board Member: Paul, your commentary was interesting and provocative. However, honestly, the read more
  • Madeline V Cosey: Children will play no matter what! We need to think read more




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