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The Massachusetts Expanding Learning Time to Support Student Success Initiative

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In 2005, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to undertake a systemic initiative to significantly expand learning time as a strategy for improving student performance and closing the achievement gap. For communities, states, and policymakers seeking to improve educational out-comes for our nation’s students, this ambitious initiative holds important lessons regarding:

  • How to redesign the schedule and educational program of schools in order to increase student achievement;
  • How to accelerate change in public systems;
  • How to engage public policy leaders in innovative reform;
  • How to build capacity in low-performing schools; and
  • How to leverage partnerships between schools and community partners on behalf of students’ learning and development;

What Is the Expanded Learning Time Initiative?

The Massachusetts Expanding Learning Time to Support Student Success Initiative takes as its inspiration the common sense idea that if students are expected to learn more—the core premise of the No Child Left Behind Act—they must have more time in which to reach these expectations. To break free from the constraints of the traditional school schedule, this initiative requires participating schools to expand time significantly (rather than incrementally) for all students and encourages a process of fundamental redesign in concert with the schedule expansion. Participating schools are expanding the school day or year by 30 percent and will thus have the chance to add four components that research indicates can have a positive effect on student performance and engagement in learning: (a) increased core academic instruction, (b) enrichment programming for all students, (c) individualized instruction and (d) more planning and professional development time for teachers.

The expanded learning time (ELT) initiative resulted from a bipartisan collaboration among a Republican governor, a majority-Democratic legislature, the state Department of Education, civic leaders, and a nonprofit advocacy and support organization, Massachusetts 2020. This nonprofit organization has provided and continues to provide overall leadership and intensive technical assistance to support the initiative.

At the end of a planning year, 10 schools in five districts were selected to begin implementation in 2006/07. Preference was given to districts that served a high percentage of low-income families and to those that partnered with community-based organizations and/or college and universities in redesigning the school day. The plans involved significant input from parents, teachers, and community partners and required approval by teacher unions in each district. Through a $6.5 million allocation from the state legislature, each school has received an extra $1,300 per student to expand learning time by 30 percent (about two hours per day) for all students in the school and to significantly reconfigure the use of time during that day. The grant monies are used primarily to compensate teachers and other school staff for working additional hours.

Key Design Features of The Expanding Learning Time Initiative:

The ELT initiative grew out of a two-year research and consultation effort led by Massachusetts 2020. The eventual policy to create ELT schools was built upon a set of policy principles that Mass 2020 had developed in conjunction with key stakeholders and legislative leaders. These principles then became the basis for the request for proposals for the initiative. These included:

1. Adding a significant percentage of more time to the school day or year (25 – 30 percent) to help students meet higher performance standards.

2. Making the initiative systemic and publicly funded rather than funded by foundation money. Implementing school districts would receive per student funds from the state to support estimated costs.

3. Requiring all students in participating schools to attend the expanded day and all schools to engage in a comprehensive restructuring of the entire school schedule.

4. Expecting districts to design a comprehensive budget sufficient to fund the approved plan, based upon an amount indicated in the budget language.

5. Targeting a mixture of districts—urban, rural, and suburban—not solely low-performing schools in low-income communities, even while recognizing that the most severe lags in proficiency rates tended to be situated in the state’s poorest school districts.

6. Holding preference for districts (a) whose plans showed the greatest potential for district-wide impact; (b) whose targeted schools demonstrated sufficient capacity and were on a posi-tive trajectory of change; and (c) which planned to partner with community-based organiza-tions and/or institutions of higher education.

7. Specifying uses of funds based on research and common sense notions about how to raise student achievement. That is, schools should include enhanced instruction in English/lan-guage arts, mathematics, and other core subjects; more time for planning and professional development for teachers; and more time for enrichment opportunities (arts, sports, tutor-ing, experiential learning) for all students.

8. Seeking the approval of key constituents, such as teachers and parents, with evidence of sup-port from any collective bargaining units, community-based organizations, or higher educa-tion institutions involved in implementation.

9. Providing technical support to participating schools and districts from the Department of Education in conjunction with Mass 2020.

10. Requiring each district to measure and track the efficiency and effectiveness of its ELT schools, including developing measurable goals to annually and longitudinally assess the implementation and impact of additional learning time on student achievement, retention, attendance, higher education attainment, and other relevant measures. The Department of Education would also conduct an annual accountability review process.

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