The momentum in districts and states around the country so far this year in support of expanding learning time has been exciting! However, the question we continue to hear is how can we afford more time?

Fortunately, with over 1,000 schools around the nation who are already implementing expanded learning time, we have some examples of how they afforded to do so. TSC Co-Chair and National Center on Time & Learning Chairman Chris Gabrieli wrote an article for Educational Leadership last year highlighting how highly successful schools have cost effectively expanded their school day and/or year.

It turns out schools vary on their cost effective models, but how are they doing it?

You have to get creative with the traditional school model.

One factor to consider is flexible scheduling for teachers and staff. While students might be in school for additional time or days, staggering teacher schedules is one way to maintain the workload and compensation for teachers. Bringing in specialized instructors for elective courses can also help allow for more opportunities in the arts, music, drama, and technology while also freeing up instructors in the core classes for planning and collaboration time. Where I taught, we had additional part-time staff who offered African drums and African dance classes to create more choice for student electives and that allowed time for teacher collaboration.

Another cost effective strategy could be partnering with community organizations. Organizations like Citizen Schools, Playworks, and City Year work with some ELT schools to provide new experiences and opportunities for students during the expanded schedule. These organizations turn traditional learning on its head and help expose students to courses, community members, and activities they might not otherwise have the chance to experience.

Adaptive learning software (computer based learning) is another way to not only differentiate for students effectively, but also cut down on the costs for schools and provide students with the opportunity to learn 21st century computer skills. One example of the blended learning model is KIPP: Empower Academy in Los Angeles, California.

The underlying answer is if there is a will, there is a way. By deciding that expanding learning time is a priority for students and teachers, administrators, teachers, and parents open the door for innovative solutions that will allow for not just more time, but better time that will help students succeed. Completely re-thinking how we structure the school day in order to cope with cost is without a doubt challenging, but examples exist and the payoff is worth tackling.