Blog: The Educated Reporter

Measuring the Impact of More — and Better — Time For Learning

This week we’re catching up with sessions from EWA’s National Seminar, held at Stanford University. Today’s guest blogger is Debbie Cafazzo of the (Tacoma, Wash.) News-Tribune.  

Why do kids need more time for learning? Jennifer Davis of the National Center on Time & Learning puts it this way: 180 six-and-a-half hour days aren’t enough to get it all done. Closing the achievement gap, improving teacher quality, broadening curriculum to include arts, physical education, foreign language and robotics – all while meeting the needs of parents – requires more time.

The schedule that was put in place more than 100 years ago to serve farms and factories doesn’t meet the needs of working families today, Davis told reporters who attended the session on expanded-learning time at EWA’s National Seminar last May.

Students in low-income families with less access to enrichment opportunities need time at school to explore elements such as art, music, apprenticeships and project-based learning. But Davis said programs “can’t just be about more time. They have to be about more time used well.”

The National Center on Time & Learning has looked at extended learning programs in schools in 36 states and the District of Columbia. NCTL has a database that includes academic achievement data for expanded-time schools. That database, along with case studies, is available at the NCTL’s website.

According to a 2012 report from the group:

• There were 1,002 expanded-time schools identified across the United States, up from 655 schools identified in 2009. These 1,002 schools served 520,000 students, up from 300,000 in the 2009 report.

• In the three years leading up to the 2012 report, the most rapid growth in expanded-time schools occurred among traditional district schools (as opposed to charter schools, which pioneered the movement).

• Expanded-time schools offer students significantly more time than the standard school schedule of 180 six-and-a-half hour days. The average length of the school day among the 1,002 expanded-time schools is 7.8 hours. The average number of annual hours among expanded-time schools is 1,430, compared to the national average of 1,206.

• Nearly 60 percent of expanded-time schools had student populations with at least 75 percent free or reduced-price lunch eligible.

Zakia Redd, senior research scientist for Child Trends, looked at studies of extended day and extended school year programs, as well as out-of-school models. Overall, schools that expanded learning time showed promise in boosting student performance. Of 18 studies, 14 showed mostly favorable effects, while the others showed either mixed results or no significant difference.

But Redd warned that the research is correlational – not causal. She also cautioned against trying to determine which specific model was better. The characteristics that appear to matter most are the ability to attract strong participation and the quality of the program. “Increasing the number of hours a school is open is not as important as ensuring that more kids take time to engage in activities,” Redd said.

Teachers can benefit from professional development on how to make programs appealing and successful.

Lucy Friedman of The After-School Corporation told EWA members that the most effective after-school programs are those that have a close partnership between the school and the program provider. “Schools can’t do it alone.”

Elements to look for in a quality program, according to Friedman, include opportunities to try new things, to be creative and work in teams; “a happy noise level’ that shows kids are engaged but stops short of chaos; activities that go beyond remediation and test preparation; and opportunities for kids to make mistakes.

“That’s how we learn,” Friedman said. “But in a test-driven culture, students are afraid.” Don’t expect to see huge differences in just one year; look for improvements perhaps by year three, Friedman said.

Principal Mark Triplett’s Urban Promise Academy middle school in Oakland’s Fruitland neighborhood was formed 11 years ago as part of a small schools movement. He’s been at the school for six years. It serves just over 300 students.

A decade ago, fewer than 10 percent of students were proficient in math. Now, it has the second-highest math proficiency scores in Oakland. The school is a Title I school serving low-income students of color. “I was determined to break the stereotype that ‘those kids’ can’t perform,” Triplett said.

The academy’s AM Boost has about a third of its students – those who are struggling – arrive an hour early each morning for their “academic cup of coffee.” ELL students might be “stuck” at a level of English where they sound fluent but lack the vocabulary necessary to get them into college; AM Boost helps them catch up, Triplett said.

The school also offers after-school enrichment and tutoring, along with a summer program. It partners with another group, Aim High, to offer the tuition-free summer program. But Triplett cautions that a school-community partnership is like a marriage, because it takes hard work to maintain.

How can educators convince kids to come to school early or over the summer? “It has to be a balance of enrichment and academics,” he said.