Expanded Learning Time


Expanded Learning Time
Lengthening the School Calendar

Pressure to meet testing benchmarks and close the achievement gap have spurred growing interest nationally in examining new ways to think about the structure and use of time within schools. One such emerging reform, called Expanded Learning Time (ELT), adds hours and/or days to the traditional school schedule under the assumption that more classroom time will help disadvantaged, minority students “catch up” to the speed of their higher performing peers.

Pressure to meet testing benchmarks and close the achievement gap have spurred growing interest nationally in examining new ways to think about the structure and use of time within schools. One such emerging reform, called Expanded Learning Time (ELT), adds hours and/or days to the traditional school schedule under the assumption that more classroom time will help disadvantaged, minority students “catch up” to the speed of their higher performing peers.

ELT models vary school to school. Some schools have added a couple hours to the school day while others have added days to the year. Others still have shifted to a year-round model where shorter breaks are scattered throughout the year rather than concentrated at peak times like summer or the holidays. 

Expanded learning time advocates see these extensions of the school calendar as a necessary shift away from the average 180 instructional days they say is rooted to an outdated, agrarian calendar. Critics, however, question whether more time will benefit underperforming students who have not fared well in the traditional environment. Proponents and skeptics aside, as schools consider transitioning to a lengthened day or year, they will have to address a number of considerations, such as how to structure added time, how to provide the manpower to staff it, and how to evaluate whether ELT is achieving the results desired. This topics page examines the background, challenges, and evaluation of expanded learning time as a school reform strategy.

The Massachusetts model

While charter schools (and some district schools) have experimented with restructuring the school calendar for some time, Expanded Learning Time gathered more national exposure in 2005 when Massachusetts approved the creation of statewide funding stream to support high poverty schools that lengthened the school year. The Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time Initiative, still in operation today, was the first state effort of its kind and currently supports 19 schools and 10,500 students in Massachusetts. The schools have all lengthened their calendars by 300 hours to provide time for academics, enrichment, and teacher professional development with the assistance of Mass 2020, a nonprofit. The Massachusetts effort also spurred the creation of the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL), a Boston-based nonprofit organization that advocates for expanded learning time at the federal and state levels. NCTL has been influential in pushing ELT nationally as a turnaround strategy for underperforming schools.

But in the past few years, the attention has grown beyond Massachusetts.

On the federal level, the current administration has not only vocally supported an expanded school schedule, but included ELT as a school turnaround strategy states could list to receive waivers from No Child Left Behind. School Improvement Grants were also provided to schools that added time to the school calendar.

On the state side, in December 2012, the New York-based Ford Foundation, in conjunction with NCTL, launched a $3 million, five-state effort called the TIME Collaborative (Time for Innovation Matters in Education) to get more schools to expand and redesign their calendars. New York, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Colorado, and Connecticut all pledged to use a blend of federal and state funding to help schools in their respective states add at least 300 hours to their calendars starting in the 2013 school year.

And at the local level, the 405,000-student Chicago district made national news in 2011 when it announced all of its schools would add 90 minutes of time to every school day and two weeks to each year by 2012-2013, a decision that caused considerable friction between the district and the local teachers’ union. In Houston, the 210,000-student district launched the Apollo 20 program in 2010-11, which lengthened the school day at schools as part of district-wide turnaround strategy.

Other districts, as well as a number of individual campuses, have recently looked at Expanded Learning Time as a solution for school turnaround and reform, particularly in schools serving high numbers of disadvantaged students. According to research from NCTL, there were more than 1,000 schools in 36 states that had implemented ELT models as of 2011—a number they say has continued to rise. Six out of 10 of these schools were charter schools in 2011, which may be tied to charter schools’ freedom from the district and union structural regulations that govern most traditional public schools. However, while there has been a rise in ELT schools, not all have added time as carefully as others, reports the time and learning center. 

Extra time as tool of reform

While attention to expanded learning has increased in recent years, so too has the discussion of its merit and impact. One of the key sources of debate is how to structure the added time. Skeptics question whether tacking on extra hours will really help students, particularly those who do not seem to acclimate well to school. Additionally, critics say that a prescriptive model for added time is not a turnaround strategy for all underperforming schools.

According to ELT advocates, however, extra time should be added to the school day on a school-by-school basis to meet the needs of students in each individual school. They propose that schools assess weak areas (i.e., students’ reading performance) and use additional hours to fill in these holes, which can mean additional hours for core academic subjects such as math or English language arts, supplementary support such as  tutoring for students falling behind, professional development for teachers, or enrichment courses students may not typically be able to access, including arts, music, and physical education.  Most advocates also say a blend of the above uses would be best for most schools.

But thinking through the structuring and implementation of the time can be a struggle for many schools, it seems. District administrators who head up restructuring efforts have stated challenges in determining how to fund the additional hours for coursework or circumvent teachers’ union contracts that regulate the number of hours teachers can work in a day or year. As a solution, creative ELT models have been implemented around the country that, for example, rely on community organizations to provide additional classes and staffing support as a way to cut costs and reduce teacher work hours.

Citizen Schools, a Boston-based nonprofit organization that partners with middle schools throughout the country to implement ELT, uses AmeriCorps members to teach some classes in its schools. Additionally, Citizen Schools has teachers use a portion of the additional time to plan their classes, collaborate with other teachers, and grade papers. These teacher “planning periods” have been a feature of a number of ELT models and can often be an incentive for teachers to support the longer days where there could be pushback.

Sustaining the supports and funding for ELT long-term can also be tricky, especially when districts are strapped for cash and must prove the necessity of using the money for ELT, which lacks a longstanding body of research proving effectiveness. Some schools used SIG dollars or other one-time sources of funding to launch ELT reforms and have had to find additional dollars to maintain the structure.

After-school vs. ELT

While some of the “best” models for expanded learning time have drawn from high-quality after-school programs, friction between the ELT and after-school communities exists. Some after-school professionals worry that ELT has gained attention (and support) too quickly. Like Expanded Learning Time schools, after-school programs, which typically operate in the hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., also traditionally target high needs, disadvantaged students. But most after-school programs focus on providing a different experience, and learning opportunities, than the school day.

After-school advocates say this distinctness helps provide students with both youth development and academic supports they need to perform at higher levels. The Expanded Learning Time community has argued they can serve more students given the school-wide nature of the reform, and that the best ELT schools are those that use the added time in a variety of ways, like after-school programs.

Some of the tensions between the two communities have flared over the funding provided by the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. This money, which historically supported the creation of after-school and community centers, can now also be used for schools implementing ELT. Some advocates in the after-school community say that the finite amount of federal money available in this funding stream is not sufficient to meet the needs of after-school programs as is; when shared with expanded learning schools, it becomes too negligible to have the impact it should. In contrast, expanded learning advocates counter that their model – which serves all students in a school – widens the reach of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.

Still, some ELT models are bridging the gaps between ELT and after-school. As one example, the Providence After-School Alliance, an intermediary organization that helps provide expanded learning opportunities in Providence, R.I., is now working directly with the local district to add time to the school day using the best practices from the alliances after-school program. And The After-School Corporation, TASC, a nonprofit organization based in New York City, launched the ExpandED initiative in 2011, which supports new ELT schools in Baltimore, New York, and New Orleans. Like the Providence effort, The After-School Corporation helped the schools structure their added hours using some of its best practices from after-school programs it supports in New York.


75th EWA National Seminar
Orlando • July 24-26, 2022

National Seminar graphic

Celebrating 75 Years! 

As those in education and journalism work to recover from an extended pandemic, bringing together the community has never been more critical. The Education Writers Association’s 75th annual National Seminar will provide a long-awaited opportunity to gather in person for three days of training, networking, and inspiration. 


How Will Educators Use Data on COVID-19 Learning Disruption?
Experts say recent findings can inform instructional strategies.

How Will Educators Use Data on COVID-19 Learning Disruption?

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Pandemic-driven shifts may have lasting repercussions.

Enrollment in K-12 schools, which plunged by 1.5 million students during the first wave of COVID-19, appeared poised to bounce back this fall. But then, the delta variant of COVID-19 raced across the nation, and school districts confronted the possibility of further shutdowns and lost students.  

Blog: The Educated Reporter

With Schools Reopening Full-Time, What Pandemic-Driven Changes Will Last?
Get 7 story ideas to help you cover K-12 and higher education shifts that may have staying power.

Despite the many hardships the pandemic caused, the COVID-19 disruption also sparked – or in some cases accelerated – changes to K-12 and higher education that leaders say should stick.

The speakers pointed to the power of flexibility, the need to focus energy and resources that will serve the “whole student,” and how increased outreach and new communication strategies with students and families could be transformative during a plenary at the Education Writers Association’s 2021 National Seminar. 


74th EWA National Seminar
Virtual, May 2-5, 2021

EWA 74th National Seminar  graphic

The Education Writers Association’s 74th National Seminar will focus on the theme of “Now What? Reporting on Education Amid Uncertainty.” Four afternoons of conversations, training and presentations will give attendees deeper understanding of these crises, as well as tools, skills and context to help them better serve their communities — and advance their careers. 

To be held May 2-5, 2021, the seminar will feature education newsmakers, including leaders, policy makers, researchers, practitioners and journalists. And it will offer practical data and other skills training. 


73rd EWA National Seminar

EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. 

This multi-day conference is designed to give participants the skills, understanding, and inspiration to improve their coverage of education at all levels. It also will deliver a lengthy list of story ideas. We will offer numerous sessions on important education issues, as well as on journalism skills.


72nd EWA National Seminar
Baltimore • May 6-8, 2019

EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. This year’s event in Baltimore, hosted by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education, will explore an array of timely topics of interest to journalists from across the country, with a thematic focus on student success, safety, and well-being.


Summer Story Ideas for Education Reporters

Summer Story Ideas for Education Reporters

Summer break is upon us, and there’s a host of compelling stories to cover on the education beat while school is out.

In this EWA webinar, a summer learning expert explains the role summer break plays in widening achievement gaps, particularly for rural students, students with disabilities, and English-language learners. Also, the webinar highlights examples of innovative work afoot to provide students with powerful summer learning experiences.


71st EWA National Seminar
Los Angeles • May 16-18, 2018

EWA 71st National Seminar Los Angeles graphic

EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. This multiday conference provides participants with top-notch training delivered through dozens of interactive sessions on covering education from early childhood through graduate school. Featuring prominent speakers, engaging campus visits, and plentiful networking opportunities, this must-attend conference provides participants with deeper understanding of the latest developments in education, a lengthy list of story ideas, and a toolbox of sharpened journalistic skills.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

The boys (and girls) are back in town. For class, that is.

See how forced that lede was? Back-to-school reporting can take on a similar tinge of predictability, with journalists wondering how an occasion as locked in as the changing of the seasons can be written about with the freshness of spring.

Recently some of the beat’s heavy hitters dished with EWA’s Emily Richmond about ways newsrooms can take advantage of the first week of school to tell important stories and cover overlooked issues.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Immigrant Students Bond With Peers Through Music

Source: Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Students in the band at Largo High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland, may not all speak the same language, but that difference doesn’t stop them from making music together.

Armando Trull took listeners inside the after-school band program this week in a story for WAMU, in which one student told him it’s OK that some of the students don’t speak English, because “music is the universal language.”

EWA Radio

TGI Thursday! Idaho’s Four-Day Schools
EWA Radio: Episode 51

Faced with massive budget cuts in the wake of the recession, many Idaho school districts switched to a four-day weekly calendar. But more than seven years into the experiment, an investigation by Idaho Education News – lead by reporter Kevin Richert — found little evidence that the schedule change improved either student achievement or the fiscal outlook of cash-strapped districts.


U.S. GAO – K-12 Education: Federal Funding for and Characteristics of Public Schools with Extended Learning Time

The U.S. Department of Education primarily supports extended learning time for K-12 public schools through the School Improvement Grants program (SIG). The SIG program, with an average 3-year grant of $2.6 million, is the only Education program that provides funds specifically to establish extended learning time in schools, according to Education. Nearly 1,800 schools that received SIG funds (about 94 percent of SIG schools) were required to extend learning time under the SIG program for school years 2010-2011 through 2014-2015.


69th EWA National Seminar

The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.

Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.

Boston, Massachusetts
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Schools Slow to Wake Up to Research on Sleepy Teens

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging public schools to start middle and high school classes later, to give adolescent students more time to rest. (Creative Commons/Psy3330 W10)

For the first time, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging education policymakers to start middle and high school classes later in the morning to improve the odds of adolescents getting sufficient sleep to thrive both physically and academically.


Instructional Time Trends
Education Commission of the States

For more than 30 years, Education Commission of the States has tracked instructional time and frequently receives requests for information about policies and trends. In this Education Trends report, Education Commission of the States addresses some of the more frequent questions, including the impact of instructional time on achievement, variation in school start dates, and trends in school day and year length. 


Growing Together, Learning Together

With many cities showing an interest in afterschool system building and research providing a growing body of useful information, this Wallace Perspective offers a digest of the latest thinking on how to build and sustain an afterschool system, and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for this promising work. The report (a follow-up to a 2008 Perspective) focuses on the four components of system building that the most current evidence and experience suggest are essential:


Growing Together, Learning Together
The Wallace Foundation

With many cities showing an interest in afterschool system building and research providing a growing body of useful information, this Wallace Perspective offers a digest of the latest thinking on how to build and sustain an afterschool system, and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for this promising work. The report (a follow-up to a 2008 Perspective) focuses on the four components of system building that the most current evidence and experience suggest are essential.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Blending Time and Learning for English Language Learners

A student in a kindergarten classroom at the Cesar
E. Chavez Multicultural Academic Center in Chicago uses a tablet to learn letters of the alphabet through sound. (Carolina Astrain for EWA)

Laptops chimed as students played a game designed to teach them the basics of geometry inside a fourth grade classroom at the Cesar E. Chavez Multicultural Academic Center on the south side of Chicago. Large paper mobiles of various geometric shapes hung from the ceiling and a list of classroom jobs for each student was posted on the wall. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

An Innovative Approach to Tracking Extra Learning Time

Students participate in an Hour of Code event at DePaul University, organized by the Chicago-based Digital Youth Network. (Photo credit: DYN)

Unlike in the movie “Field of Dreams,” just building after-school and summer programs offers no mystical guarantee that students “will come.”  

Access is a huge issue – not just transportation to the programs, although that is a challenge. The types of programs offered, if students perceive them as having value, and whether students and their parents even know what’s available in their communities are things to consider.


Summer Learning Story Ideas

Flickr/Jessica Lucia

School is out, and you’re sitting in your office wondering what to write about. EWA can help!

On Tuesday, June 9, EWA held a webinar on summer learning with literacy experts Sarah Pitcock of the National Summer Learning Association and Judy Blankenship Cheatham of Reading Is Fundamental.

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.

EWA Radio

Mindful Learning: Reporting on Classroom Innovations
EWA Radio: Episode 23

How do teachers and parents determine whether school reform is effective? Hint: it’s not all about test scores.

Reporter Katrina Schwartz focuses on classroom innovations for KQED San Francisco’s Mindshift education blog, which is produced in partnership with NPR.

She spoke to EWA’s Emily Richmond and Mikhail Zinshteyn about sifting through the buzzwords, what attracts her to a potential education story, and why anecdotal evidence is worth considering when evaluating school and student performance.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Bringing the Learning Home on Snow Days

Kindergarten students at Atkinton Elementary School in Farmington, Minn. use their district-issued iPads. (Credit: Farmington Area Public Schools.)

As many states dig out from yet another winter storm, school districts are struggling to keep the academic calendar – and student learning – from being derailed as a result of record numbers of snow days.

But increasingly, educators are using technology to turn campus closures into opportunities for students to complete academic assignments on their own.


Expanded Learning Time: A Summary of Findings from Case Studies in Four States
Center on Education Policy

Many low-performing schools across the nation have increased learning time in response to federal requirements for the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. The conditions governing federal waivers of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) also require certain schools to redesign the school day, week, or year to include additional time for student learning and teacher collaboration. Furthermore, the waivers allow greater flexibility to redirect certain federal funding streams toward increased learning time.


It’s About Time
Learning Time and Educational Opportunity in California High Schools

IT’S ABOUT TIME draws on a statewide survey to examine how learning time is distributed across California high schools. The survey, conducted by UCLA IDEA during the 2013-2014 school year, included a representative sample of nearly 800 teachers. Survey findings highlight inequalities in the amount of time available for learning across low and high poverty High Schools.  Community stressors and chronic problems with school conditions lead to far higher levels of lost instructional time in high poverty high schools. 


Leveraging Time for School Equity
Indicators to Measure More and Better Time for Learning

Using standardized test scores as the main measure of educational achievement is not enough to capture the complexity of a student’s or school’s needs, challenges, and successes. Leveraging Time for School Equity: Indicators to Measure More and Better Learning Time presents a new set of comprehensive, rich, and meaningful measures of what matters to students, schools, and systems.  

Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Summer Jobs Slide

 Source: Flickr/a loves dc

The summer slide doesn’t just pertain to flagging academic skills while kids soak in the sun and skip the books. Increasingly, even as math and literacy fall by the wayside, high school students are losing out on access to summer wages.

Key Coverage

What We Don’t Know About Summer School

So as the July heat kicks in, we started wondering about the whole idea. What, exactly, is summer school? How much does it cost? And, the biggest question, does it work? In a nutshell, we have no idea. “It’s been one of my pet peeves for years,” says Kathy Christie, vice president of knowledge and information management at the nonprofit Education Commission of the States. She says there’s never been a push for anyone to collect data on summer school. As a result there isn’t really good information about any of those questions above.


Time & Learning in Schools: A National Profile

Mounting concerns over persistently underperforming schools have sparked a renewed interested in increasing the amount of time that children spend in school. Time and Learning in Schools takes the first step towards filling the need for more information on time allocation practices in our nation’s schools. The authors use data from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) to measure variation in time practices across the nation’s traditional public, private and charter schools.


The Ford Foundation

This New York City-based foundation has put significant funding into expanded learning. The foundation heads up with TIME Collaborative with National Center on Teaching and Learning.


Providence After-School Alliance

This nonprofit organization, based in Providence, R.I., runs city-wide after-school programs and expanded learning efforts. It is currently partnering with the local school district on an ELT initiative.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

After-School Learning Advocates Hope Research Leads to More Federal Dollars

Learning doesn’t stop when the last bell of the day rings, but for most communities, money to support after-school activities is tight.

The largest federal grant program dedicated to learning outside of class – after school, before school and during summers – is roughly only $1.15 billion for the entire nation, for instance. The AfterSchool Alliance, an advocacy group, notes that of all the money spent on education outside of normal school hours, Uncle Sam only kicks in about a tenth. Parents, meanwhile, contribute three-quarters of the dollars spent in total.


The Wallace Foundation

The Wallace Foundation is a national philanthropy, based in New York City, that aims to improve the educational opportunities for disadvantaged students. The foundation has invested heavily in research and resources aimed at improving the positive effect principals can have on school and student performance. They have also put significant funding toward expanded learning, summer learning, and after-school.

Key Coverage

At Retooled Summer Schools, Creativity, Not Just Catch-Up

Just a few years ago, school districts around the country were slashing summer classes as the economic downturn eviscerated their budgets. Now, despite continuing budgetary challenges, districts are re-envisioning summer school as something more than a compulsory exercise where students who need to make up lost credits fight to stay awake inside humid classrooms.


School’s (Still) In: Making the Most of Summer Learning
1 hour

While students are celebrating the start of the long summer break, there’s a significant tradeoff for the three months of leisure – on average, students will return to school in the fall a month behind where they performed in the spring. And the learning loss is even greater for low-income students who were already behind their more affluent peers. In this EWA Webinar, we examine how districts are successfully combating summer learning loss with high-quality programs and leveraging community partnerships to help pay for them.

Key Coverage

5 States To Increase Class Time In Some Schools

Open your notebooks and sharpen your pencils. School for thousands of public school students is about to get quite a bit longer. Five states announced Monday that they will add at least 300 hours of learning time to the calendar in some schools starting in 2013. Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee will take part in the initiative, which is intended to boost student achievement and make U.S. schools more competitive on a global level.

Key Coverage

Debate Over Year-round Versus Traditional Schools

By the time summer’s over, many families can’t wait for school to start. Working parents have struggled to find camps or babysitting, kids are bored and teachers fret over “summer slide” – the academic losses that research shows hits kids from poor families hardest.


Off the Clock: What More Time Can (and Can’t) Do for School Turnarounds

If less time in the classroom is a cause of poor student performance, can adding more time be the cure? This strategy underlies a major effort to fix the nation’s worst public schools. Billions of federal stimulus dollars are being spent to expand learning time on behalf of disadvantaged children. And extended learning time (ELT) is being proposed as a core strategy for school turnaround.