Expanded Learning Time: Winning Strategy for Families

Expanding Learning TimeNancy Conneely is a guest blogger from the National Center on Time and Learning. Today’s post provides insight into the concept of an expanded school day, an idea that is being discussed more and more across the country.

Momentum has been building across the country to expand learning time for public school students. Why?

For several reasons, the relatively short school day and long summer break—a school structure that became the norm by the early 20th century—no longer meet our needs. First, there are more households where mothers work outside the home, whether they are two-income households or households led by single parents. The misalignment between the work day and the traditional school day places an increased burden on parents. Second, in today’s globalized economy and technologically advanced world, jobs require critical thinking skills, group collaboration, and other advanced skills. The burden on schools to graduate students with a wide array of skills and knowledge is greater than ever, but the conventional school calendar limits the ability of schools to adequately prepare students for college and career.

Benefits of more time

But more time doesn’t mean more of the same. We can’t simply tack time on to the school calendar and expect to see strong results. With more time schools must rethink the school day. Schools that have expanded learning time are able to broaden and deepen the curriculum, to better address the learning needs of individual students, and to build in opportunities that enrich students’ educational experiences. The National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL) has been working with states, schools, teachers and parents over the last decade to ensure that schools not only have more time, but that it is time well spent.

Expanded learning time can raise achievement by giving students more class time and more small-group instruction tailored to meet their individual needs, and s teachers and students more time for science, social studies, and foreign languages, classes that have been scaled back in many places.

Expanding the school day also allows for more enrichment courses such as arts, music, robotics, drama, and creative writing, all of which help to keep students engaged in school. To supplement and enrich academic and elective courses, schools often bring  in partners, such as community-based organizations, local businesses, colleges and universities, and arts and cultural institutions.

From a practical perspective, too, a longer day for students also better aligns with working parents’ schedules, providing all children the kind of well-rounded education parents crave without having to worry about them leaving the safety of the school building early in the afternoon, several hours before the workday ends.

Families support expanded learning time

For all these reasons, parents are overwhelmingly in favor of expanded school time. Recently, NCTL reported on a survey that found that three-quarters of respondents – including 80 percent of parents with children enrolled in public schools – agreed that more time in school will better prepare students for success in college and the workforce.

In places where ELT is currently being implemented, parents are pleased with the opportunities that more instructional time provides for their children. For example, in Revere, Massachusetts, where two elementary schools expanded learning time in 2008, parents like that more time allows their children to develop deeper relationships with teachers and other adult role models, to participate in more enrichment activities, and to stay more engaged in the school day.

Federal policies that support expanded learning time

As expanded learning time has gained steam in local schools, it has also gained the support of the Obama Administration and many members of Congress. The waivers that the Obama Administration has granted to states to give them flexibility in meeting No Child Left Behind requirements include options for states and schools to use federal funding for expanding the school day and year.  The School Improvement Grant program, which targets funds to the lowest-performing schools, also allows schools to use money to expand the school day and year.

As Congress has worked on new legislation to replace No Child Left Behind, bipartisan proposals emphasizing the value of expanded learning time have passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. While the details of the proposals vary, each provides states and districts with greater flexibility to use federal funds for expanded learning time.

How can you help?

If you are interested in ways to expand learning time for your children, there are a number of things you can do:

  • Join the Time to Succeed Coalition (TSC)! TSC is a broad and diverse coalition working to ensure that all children in our nation’s high-poverty communities have more and better learning time in school to prepare them for success. By signing on, you’ll be joining the growing movement to expand learning time in communities across the country.
  • Speak with your school’s principal about the possibility of expanding the school day or year.
  • Speak with families in your child’s school about the benefits of an expanded school day or year.
  • Ask local and state candidates about their views on expanding school time as a piece of their education platform.

For more information on expanded learning time, please visit www.timeandlearning.org.

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