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Extended Learning Time Highlighted in Draft Changes to SIG Program

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Efforts to extend learning time get a higher profile in the U.S. Department of Education's draft regulations for the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program.

The proposed guidelines, published in the Federal Register last week, would replace the current 2010 requirements for districts seeking funds to improve chronically low-performing schools under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Advocates of expanded learning time say they're encouraged that the proposal calls for significant changes in the quality and scope of these programs.

"We're excited to see the inclusion of high-quality increased learning time as a requirement in the new model," said Blair Brown, the vice president of advocacy and communications for the National Center on Time and Learning.  

Brown said that simply tacking on 15 to 20 minutes at the end of the school day doesn't improve student learning. However, she said research from her organization, cited in the draft regulations, shows that "when schools redesign their schedule to significantly expand learning time, the impact is impressive."

That's especially heartening for advocates for extended learning time because as Education Week's Sarah Sparks wrote about last week, for the first time, the proposed rules would also allow districts to develop "whole school reform" strategies, as long as they've been demonstrated to be effective under the standards of the federal What Works Clearinghouse.

Up to now, schools seeking SIG grants had to choose from four turnaround models: replacing the principal and at least half the staff, restarting the school as a charter, replacing the principal, or closing the school and sending students to other higher-achieving schools.

The SIG program has been controversial from the start as Education Week reported earlier this month, for its heavy-handed changes and inconsistent results.

The new regulations would give states two other turnaround options. One is for schools to offer full-day kindergarten or prekindergarten classes, and another that would also allow state education departments to develop their own intervention models that must be approved by the U.S. Department of Education and must include a plan for increased learning time.

Mary Kingston Roche, the public policy manager at the Coalition for Community Schools, said her organization is happy to see the requirement for community input into school district SIG proposals. But she added that the coalition is concerned that the draft rules don't provide any specific criteria on what districts have to do. "A school could send out a survey asking for parent input and say that they did their job, instead of seeking more meaningful input," she said.

The deadline for submitting comments on the proposed regulations is Oct. 8.

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