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Expanding Learning Time Through Supplemental Educational Services

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In 2001, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was reauthorized and expanded into what is now the No Child Left Behind Act. Arguably the biggest changes that occurred during reauthorization were the expansion of the law’s language on accountability, the requirement of disaggregating and publicly reporting student achievement data, and the inclusion of prescribed interventions for continually low-performing schools. To support specific school improvement interventions in these under performing schools, the law requires districts to set aside funds for programs such as tutoring. Five years into NCLB implementation, its results and the opinions about it are mixed.

As we begin reauthorization of this landmark legislation, significant attention is focused on annual accountability goals. Every year, as states find themselves one step closer to 2014—the final date whereby all students are expected to be proficient in math and reading—each state’s target for the proportion of students meeting proficiency standards becomes incrementally higher. Under the law, each school must meet “adequate yearly progress” benchmarks established by its state or be identified as falling short.

While states and districts are responsible for turning around low-performing schools, their ability to do so is often restricted. Designing and implementing effective school improvement interventions—and realizing significant student achievement gains—is limited by the under-funding of NCLB and constrained state budgets. If states and schools are to be held accountable for academic progress, then they need adequate funds and flexibility to implement high quality, school-wide reforms.

A promising strategy to improve student performance and close achievement gaps for high-poverty schools is the expansion of learning time. Given its potential, we recommend that expanded learning time be explicitly added into the reauthorized No Child Left Behind Act.

This paper examines NCLB’s accountability and school improvement provisions and proposes that expanded learning time be included as an allowable use of supplemental educational services funds to increase student learning and add a whole-school improvement strategy to a pot of money that is currently targeted to individual students.

The main proposal presented in this paper allows for the use of SES funds to support expanded learning time in schools with a student population that is at least 40 percent low-income by funding a one-year planning period followed by implementation until the school is able to meet its annual yearly progress benchmarks and support expanded learning through other financial means.

Three additional changes will serve to more explicitly encourage the use of expanded learning time and improve the educational outcomes of all children: closing the Title I comparability loophole to establish greater equity in funding and thereby make more funds available to the highest poverty schools; more clearly defining “extended” or “expanded” learning in the language of NCLB; and adopting an expanded learning time demonstration with a high quality national evaluation.

An expanded learning strategy focuses on school-wide instruction, provides schools with the flexibility to use time in a way that will best meet the needs of students and their communities, and modernizes schools so that they are building 21st century skills and preparing all students for success.

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