Blog: The Educated Reporter

Expanded Learning Time: Better For Kids or Teachers?

Flickr/Wesley Fryer

When Superintendent Bolgen Vargas wanted to extend the school day in the Rochester City School District, a low-income, low-performing district in New York, he waded through research and reached out for guidance. “We wanted to do this, but we wanted to make sure it wasn’t another flavor of the month,” Vargas said at the Education Writers Association’s recent National Seminar.

Vargas was one of three educators on a panel during the conference’s “deep dive” on expanded learning time. They provided insight on how it looks in schools, as well as success and challenges that come with extended time.

Rochester adopted a framework from the National Center on Time & Learning and asked for help from experts. Vargas also made sure the extended time wasn’t just for students. “For so many years, [teachers] say they don’t have enough time,” Vargas said. “We’ve been asking teachers, administrators, and students to do more, more, more, but we have kept time constant.”

Team effort

In Rochester, the extended school day provides more time for teachers to collaborate and plan and also allows students to participate in academic enrichment and interventions. Overall, the district added 300 hours to the school year.

Research shows that extended learning time produces mixed results academically, but there are certain characteristics that may boost effectiveness. A 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Education found that certified teachers, hands-on activities, and programs that target specific student groups may have a positive impact on social-emotional skills or academic achievement in extended day programs. A report from the National Center on Time & Learning highlighted additional benefits of extended time, like more time for teacher collaboration and professional development, and more time for enrichment classes.

Nationwide, the concept of extended learning time has been most commonly linked with charter schools, which tend to offer longer school days and years. The KIPP charter schools, for example, feature nine and a half hour school days. But a growing number of states and districts have rolled out extended learning time initiatives in recent years, which has sparked debate over the amount of time children should be in school, and the activities they should be doing in that extra time.

Time to teach

Mollie Griffin, a high school history teacher at Pritzker College Prep Noble Charter School in Chicago, told the EWA audience that her school’s extended learning day provides more time for less-traditional classes, like Russian language, as well as for enrichment classes and detention. Students at Pritzker spend seven and a half hours in school, with five and a half hour on core subjects. The rest of the day is spent on electives. Griffin said the extended day also allows for common planning periods for teachers.

Charter schools, however, have the autonomy, and often more resources, to roll out such initiatives. Griffin pointed out that the school is not bound by teachers’ union rules, which affords more flexibility.

Windy City lessons

In some traditional schools, extended learning time has been more of a challenge. In Chicago in 2012, the city lengthened the day and year for elementary and high schools in an attempt to offer more classes to students. The impact of the longer school day has varied by school. Some schools did not have the funding or staff to support enrichment classes and opted for study hall, while others expanded extracurricular activities.

Chicago principal Troy LaRaviere said at the EWA seminar that while he’s not against extended time, the extended day is “a distraction from things that matter quite a bit more for student success.” He added that having a teacher who can design and carry out a lesson and manage a classroom can lead to more time on task, which is what’s most important yet has received little attention in Chicago schools.  Despite the longer day, LaRaviere says many teachers are losing time to plan together or attend professional development. “We have a longer day,” LaRaviere said. “But we don’t have the time to improve practice.”