Recently, I joined more than 100 education and civic leaders, teachers unions and business leaders, academics, parents, community organizers and civil rights leaders in endorsing the Time to Succeed Coalition. This broad and very diverse alliance is focused on ensuring that the nation’s high-poverty communities have more and better learning time in school so they are prepared for success in college and in work. The roster of endorsers from all sectors is growing every day, ranging from Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, to Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected & Appointed Officials, to Wendy Puriefoy, president of Public Education Network.

The coalition’s mission is to inspire and motivate communities across the country to add more learning time as part of a redesigned school day and year, enabling children — particularly those in located in low-income areas – to reverse the academic decline. The coalition’s formation – and its diverse membership – is positive proof that expanded learning time is a priority among education reformers nationwide. And even though coalition members may not agree on every aspect of this approach, we believe in the tremendous, positive impact expanded learning time can have on teaching and learning.

It’s abundantly clear, however, that simply extending school time will not produce the desired results. The key to success, according to a recent Education Sector study, is examining how time is utilized overall as part of comprehensive reform, or as Luis Ubinas, president of the Ford Foundation and Time to Succeed co-chair, stated, “Afterschool programs, while engaging and educational, are not available to all kids, and are not enough to solve the core problem. What is needed is a strategic redesign of the school day.”

So what does effective expanded learning time look like? Last spring, I offered testimony on expanded learning during a public hearing on the Providence (R.I.) teachers’ contract. During my remarks, I noted that while K-12 schools should lie at the epicenter of an expanded learning network for children and youth, schools must be designed to complement and reinforce learning activities found in the home, community and business settings so they combine to enhance students’ motivation and engagement; reinforce the importance of problem-solving and critical thinking; strengthen productive attachments to peers and adults, and help students see the connections between the academic skills and knowledge they acquire in schools and their ability to perform activities that catapult them forward in fulfilling their educational, career and personal objectives.

Successful models of effective expanded learning efforts which go well beyond just adding more classroom time already exist, including the After-school Corporation in New York, Citizen Schools in Boston, and the Providence After School Alliance, to name a few. Each one is built upon a foundation composed of strong afterschool programs, and hands-on experimental learning that involves community partners. With more time, schools can connect the community more deeply into the lives of students through partnerships that bring individuals, non-profits, and cultural and higher educational institutions into the daily school schedule.

Orchard Gardens, a K-8 school in Boston, exemplifies the good work being done. Located in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, Orchard Gardens had five different principals over a seven-year period. During that time, the share of students scoring at or above proficient in reading or math stagnated below 20 percent. In 2010, Orchard Gardens’ new principal worked with his leadership team, faculty, and Citizen Schools to expand learning time. Students and teachers now have additional time to review and assess student learning data, making it possible to identify areas where students are lagging. The expanded schedule has also created more time for art and music, physical education, and foreign languages, as well as homework support, apprenticeship opportunities, and college readiness courses. Students now have more time for both academic and enrichment opportunities; teachers have more time for collaboration; and student performance on Bay State reading and math exams increased 10 percent and 16 percent, respectively.
With its thoughtful use of expanded time, Orchard Gardens demonstrates that school transformation is possible. Crucial, however, to the sustainability of these programs and services is finding long-term ways to financially support this work well beyond local or national grants whose funding cycles are usually limited to three-to-five years. Large cities throughout the country with low achieving, high-minority communities must grapple with this funding challenge to ensure the long-term stability of these highly beneficial extended learning time initiatives. Ideally, my fellow Coalition members and I will address this critical issue in the coming months.

Schools have the unique opportunity to be an equalizer in our society. With expanded learning time, schools in high-poverty communities can provide the range of educational and extracurricular opportunities that are often available in school or out of school for students in higher-income communities. It is incumbent upon policymakers to examine the successful, expanded time models and apply them to their respective situations, particularly in low-income communities with disadvantaged schools, where achievement is hindered by inadequate learning time and a scarcity of opportunities outside of school for engagement and growth.

I urge you to endorse the Coalition, and join the growing movement 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.

This blog was originally posted on the Annenberg Institute for School Reform website. Executive Director, Warren Simmons, is a featured TSC Signatory