More than 1,500 pioneering schools around the country are already showing how expanding learning time (ELT) for all of their students can help to boost student achievement, empower teachers, and strengthen communities. These schools are leading the way, proving that modernizing the school calendar is not only possible, but a necessity for high-poverty schools.
As part of Fort Logan Elementary School’s turnaround plan, students spend additional hours at school on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons, participating in art, music, dance, martial arts, leadership, and science classes. The time also allows for additional reading instruction, to ensure that even students who are falling behind are able to catch up and read at grade level. According to Fort Logan’s Principal, Barb Johnson, “When our students leave for the day you can be assured that they have participated in a well-rounded and rigorous education that will afford them every opportunity to succeed.”
The education Johnson has in mind for each Fort Logan student includes more than just academics – it also includes lessons in things like discipline and patience, as evidenced by the school’s popular tae kwon do classes. Fort Logan student Gael says tae kwon do taught him to express himself, and now he thinks more creatively about his future. Other schools may not focus on the well-rounded education, like Gael’s school. There, he says, “we get science and tae kwon do, so now we know more – a little bit more about what we’re going to be when we grow up.”
So with expanded learning time, doing fun things like science and drumming, that’s going to make you want to learn more. That’s going to make you want to go to school more. The opportunity to take tae kwon do and other electives while knowing they won’t fall behind in reading or math allows students like Gael to foster natural curiosity and enthusiasm for school. “I feel like the extra time they have in expanded learning time is going to help them have deeper and broader experiences so they can know that there’s more out there,” said fourth grade teacher Ken White.
Gael feels the same way, saying that the opportunity to try new things is what makes school enjoyable. “If I didn’t have expanded learning time, we would just go home, and that wouldn’t be any fun,” Gael said. “So with expanded learning time, doing fun things like science and drumming, that’s going to make you want to learn more. That’s going to make you want to go to school more.”
Sondra Arnold didn’t feel like art had a place in Kuss Middle School’s increasingly rushed school day. As the sole visual arts teacher responsible for over 500 students, Arnold couldn’t find the time to plan the electives she had in mind – painting, drawing, sculpture outside of just ceramics, and even manga, Japanese comic book art – nor did her students have time to settle into the relaxed mindset they would need to tap into their artistic potential.
The result is that our students have performed better consistently year after year because of expanded learning time.Then in 2004, Kuss Middle School was the first school in Massachusetts designated as chronically underperforming by the state. Ms. Arnold says, “Teachers that were here for the long haul felt disheartened. They felt as if the district was giving up on them. In fact, that was not the case.” In the months that followed, teachers and administrators worked with experts to integrate an expanded learning time schedule, a change that has had a profound positive impact on teacher preparation, student opportunities and, ultimately, the performance of the school as a whole.
For Nancy Mullen, the principal at Kuss at the time, the benefits of ELT are clear. “When we began the work at Kuss Middle School, expanded learning time became a possibility in that first year and our teachers embraced the opportunity to be able to provide enrichment and more academic instruction for our students,” Mullen says. “Since that time, expanded learning time has enabled our students to look at their deficits and to have more fun in school. The result is that our students have performed better consistently year after year because of expanded learning time.”
Today, expanded learning time at Kuss Middle School allows Ms. Arnold to plan art classes she knows will benefit her students, reaching those individuals who struggle with math or writing and providing them with a creative outlet to excel. The benefits show in the classroom and beyond, with more confident, higher performing students and teachers and administrators who share enthusiasm for the school’s bright future.
Since the passage of No Child Left Behind, reading and math often have crowded out other crucial subjects, like science, civics, and history. Expanded learning time makes it possible for schools to restore these subjects to their rightful place in the curriculum. That certainly has been the case at both the Edith Starke Elementary School and Pierson Elementary School in Volusia County, FL, which have significantly increased time for science instruction.
When the schools gained an additional hour each day, they took advantage of that time to redesign their schedules with a focus on including more science instruction. Pierson Elementary went from providing just one hour of weekly science instruction before the expanded day to providing five hours each week under the new schedule. Depending on grade levels, Starke Elementary implemented similar increases in science.
You have to do science; you cannot just read about it.But leaders at Pierson and Starke recognized that time is a resource, not a strategy – so it wasn’t just the quantity of science that changed, but also how science was taught. Teachers use a variety of approaches to help students learn science, from teacher-led discussions to hands-on experiments.
“You have to do science; you cannot just read about it,” says Laura Bechard, a science teacher at Pierson. “Students must show me in lots of different, creative ways that they understand what science is.”
In Bechard’s fourth and fifth grade classes, for example, small groups of students rotate among experimental stations learning about water erosion by observing the effects of simulated rain on planters filled with clover compared with planters filled with just dirt.
“Students struggle with how the science we teach connects to the real world,” says Bechard. “We need to make it explicit and reinforce those connections constantly. This, again, takes time.”
By giving teachers more time to receive support and feedback on their teaching, expanded learning time can significantly strengthen instruction for students. At North Star Academy, there is a relentless focus on supporting teachers and helping teachers hone their approach to the classroom – and more time makes it possible.
North Star’s instructional leaders conduct classroom observations, then meet with teachers one-on-one to provide feedback and assist with lesson planning.All teachers at North Star are assigned an “instructional leader” to support their development. Instructional leaders provide teachers with a minimum of three hours of supervision each week. The weekly supervision starts with one hour of classroom observation, a subsequent one-hour meeting to provide feedback, and a third hour to work together to plan next week’s lessons. New and struggling teachers can receive up to twice as much coaching each week. Instructional leaders, who also teach classes, receive their own coaching on how to support their colleagues.
To make sure there’s time for these vital meetings, North Star’s teachers typically teach four out of seven class periods each school day, which runs from 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. “These meetings take time, and they are an important part of our work to make sure our students receive an excellent education,” says Juliann Harris, North Star’s 9th and 10th grade Academy Leader.
North Star’s rate of student proficiency on the state math exams has reached 100 percent, and in reading, it exceeds 90 percent. By working with teachers, who then ensure that students are meeting their personal goals and the school’s goals for them, North Star Academy is preparing its student body for college, careers, and beyond, while refining a system that is able to provide thoughtful support to future students.
When Carlos and his friends first heard about plans to expand the school day at Orchard Gardens, they weren’t thrilled. “We thought we’d be really bored staying in school until five-thirty every day,” says Carlos, a seventh-grader who started as a kindergartner at Orchard Gardens. “But once we got used to it, we realized that school was actually more fun.”
Orchard Gardens was a school with significant challenges. Situated in one of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, it had five different principals over seven years. During that time, the share of students scoring at or above proficient in reading or math stagnated below 20 percent.
One of the biggest reasons for my students’ success this past year was the extended period of time with them.In 2010, Orchard Gardens’ new principal, Andrew Bott, worked with his leadership team, faculty, and community partners like Citizen Schools to expand learning time. With the new school schedule, students and teachers are noticing a difference. “One of the biggest reasons for my students’ success this past year was the extended period of time with them,” says Ben Rockoff, an administrator at the school who taught seventh-grade math during the 2010-2011 school year.
Of course, more time does not just mean more of the same. Teachers at Orchard Gardens have more time to review and assess student learning data, making it possible to identify areas where individual students are falling behind. “From that information, I might spend more time with that student on those concepts during class, or work with them one-on-one outside of class,” Rockoff says.
The expanded schedule has not just made room for more math and reading; it has also created more time for art and music, physical education, and foreign languages. Students at Orchard Gardens have access to everything from Mandarin classes to theater. Orchard Gardens also offers students homework support, apprenticeship opportunities, and college readiness courses.
These learning opportunities help make school more engaging for students like Carlos. And although Orchard Gardens is still a work in progress, the initial results are impressive. Students have more time for both academic and enrichment opportunities, teachers have more time for collaboration, and student performance on state reading and math exams jumped 10 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Orchard Gardens is making the case that with thoughtful use of expanded time, transformation is possible.
At An Achievable Dream Middle and High School in Newport News, Virginia the expectation is that all students – 83 percent of whom qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch – will graduate from high school prepared for success in college and the workplace.
“Expanded learning time gives the option to declare ‘no failure,’” says Lee Vreeland, the school’s director of education and student services. “There is time to ensure that all succeed.”
Expanded learning time gives the option to declare ‘no failure.’An Achievable Dream operates on a calendar of 210 8-hour days. In earlier grades, it uses the extra time to focus on reading and math, helping students below grade level to catch up. In later grades, the extra time is used to prepare students for advanced work, where students are encouraged to enroll in advanced course work, such as AP calculus and dual-enrollment courses with local colleges.
Students in later grades participate in the school’s unique “What it Takes” curriculum, taking two to three classes each week intended to teach students the skills they need for success in the workplace, such as collaboration and teamwork. Business leaders teach the courses, forging community partnerships with the school that can lead to internship opportunities for students. Roughly 90 percent of juniors and seniors are involved in an internship or job shadowing experience.
Also reflecting the school’s intense focus on preparing every student for college, An Achievable Dream uses expanded time to support students through the college application and financial aid processes. Many Achievable Dream students will be the first in their families to go to college.
With 93 percent of Achievable Dream students scoring at proficient or above on Virginia’s state English language arts exam, and 92 percent scoring at proficient or above on math, An Achievable Dream is making good on its founding promise “that all children can learn and succeed regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds.”
When Dr. Jeff Smith became superintendent of the Balsz Elementary School District in Phoenix, Arizona in 2009, the school district was struggling. Two of the district’s five schools were classified as “underperforming” and faced potential corrective action. A state takeover of the entire school district was a real possibility.
To confront these significant challenges, Smith expanded the length of the school year by four weeks. The new 200-day calendar yielded an 11 percent increase in time for teaching and learning. To help make the additional time possible, Smith took advantage of an Arizona state law that provides additional funding to districts with expanded learning time. With the new funding, Smith was able to provide the district’s teachers with a 9 percent raise.
The Extended Learning Time Calendar has allowed us to transform our school community.More than half of the students in the school district are English language learners, every school is a Title I school, and more than 90 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. In the three years since the Balsz Elementary School District expanded the school schedule, students’ test scores have risen significantly. Now, approximately 85 percent of sixth graders meet or exceed state standards in reading, far exceeding performance in comparable districts. The state no longer rates any of the district’s schools as underperforming.
The Balsz Elementary School District is the first school district in the country to expand the length of its school year in all of its schools and for all of its students, and that reform is becoming a central piece of what makes the schools work.
“The Extended Learning Time Calendar has allowed us to transform our school community,” says Smith. “It is evident the extended school year is having a positive impact on student achievement. Implementing the 200-day Extended Learning Calendar has opened doors to other opportunities for improvement, and is helping us deliver on the promise of success for our students.
“You have to look at extended learning time as an investment and as a gift. Putting money into more time is good for everybody,” Smith adds. “It’s good for kids and working families because the children are going to learn more and be more successful. It’s good for schools and teachers because they’re providing more for their students. It’s good for the community because now kids are not necessarily out doing other things that aren’t good. For me, it’s a very easy equation: extended learning time is a smart investment.”