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A crescendo of support from education researchers, analysts, reform advocates, and lawmakers about the need for additional learning time for our nation’s under-performing students may well result in the coming months in meaningful reform. In fact, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings believes that the expansion of learning time will be the next major push in school reform. The reason: our nation’s public school students need to meet the demands and challenges of the 21st century but they simply cannot in public school systems that remain much the same as they were 50 years ago. The shift in educational rigor that globalization has ushered in is pushing policymakers to embrace systemic change in public education, with particular focus on closing achievement gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers.
In rethinking what it will take for our public schools to better serve students who are academically behind, wisdom tell us that a comprehensive approach that encompasses numerous options will provide the best opportunity to support student learning. The expansion of learning time can serve as one effective vehicle to modernize our schools because it allows teachers, principals, community organizations and leaders, and parents to build multiple curriculums to best educate our children to succeed in the 21st century. Expanded learning time turns dissatisfaction with the limitations of the current six-hour, 180-day school year into a proactive strategy that will create a new school structure for children.
Making more and better use of learning time by lengthening the school day, week, or year doesn’t just change what happens between the hours of 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Expanding learning time changes what happens from 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and often encompasses additional days in the school calendar throughout the year to accelerate student learning and development. In short, expanding time for learning will revolutionize the way we teach our children.
To navigate through this forthcoming and thorough-going school reform effort, this paper will define what expanded learning time means, highlight what model programs look like when used effectively, and address how to successfully implement such reform efforts. As will become clear, expanded learning time is all about using time in ways that greatly benefit our students.
For more information on CAP’s extended learning time policies, see: