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ELT and the Broader Reform Agenda

Could this be expanded learning time's moment in the spotlight?

Perhaps "moment" isn't the right word, but the concept of rising practical and policy interest in ELT was very much in evidence during my conversation today with Jennifer Davis, the president and chief executive officer of the National Center on Time & Learning.

Davis was in Washington to meet with other education groups, as well as members of Congress, to talk about extended learning, federal appropriations, and the much-anticipated reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. ELT has factored in recent reports here and elswhere regarding the 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs. (See Beyond School here and here for two perspectives on the legislation.)

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has shepherded an education, health and human services, and labor spending bill through the Senate Appropriations Committee that would allow 21st Century funds to be spent on extended-learning-time programs, as well as on the after-school and summer school efforts it currently supports. The move has touched off some controversy; most notably, the Afterschool Alliance opposes the expansion of the 21st Century program's scope.

But Davis, who has deep roots in the after-school community, said the appropriations bill reflects the priorities of the Obama administration and supporters such as Harkin, who chairs the education appropriations subcommittee. It doesn't cut out after-school, she said, but allows local flexibility in how schools could choose to use the community centers funding.

Nationwide, she said, about 700 schools used ELT strategies as of late last year, and more are looking into doing the same. Particularly in distressed urban districts, "there's just not enough time. ... Schools do not have the time we need to meet the needs of our high-poverty students."

"The reality is," Davis said, "if you do [extended learning] right, if you do it thoughtfully, if you do it inclusively, it's going to be successful," she said.

In the coming year, Davis said, she plans to work on engaging different groups and leaders to examine what students need to succeed, including adding more learning time in some communities. ELT is part of a greater school reform mission and not a stand-alone program, she made clear. Time can be a "lever" for bigger change, and this will factor in her conversations about its role in the ESEA reauthorization, Davis said.

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