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In a world of competing priorities and limited resources, there is great need for help that is targeted to those who need it most. Arguably, too many of our nation’s low-income and minority public school students fall into this category. But the reforms that are necessary to upgrade our nation’s public school system and ensure that these students receive a high-quality education require considerable investment. Weighed against other policy strategies, education reform initiatives too often remain near the bottom of the list.
Nonetheless, we are amid a national education crisis that demands response. Too few students have the proficiency in core content areas and additional 21st century skills that are necessary for success in post-secondary educational institutions and the workplace. But there are ways to improve a number of our schools—by targeting meaningful reform initiatives to those that have historically received less support. One strategy, the expansion of learning time for high-poverty and high-minority schools, has great potential to increase student performance, close achievement gaps, expand enrichment opportunities, and change school culture to better support learning and teaching.
This report examines whether high-poverty and high-minority schools and districts are rethinking the school calendar, if they are adding learning time to the calendar in a significant way, and if they are using learning time differently. To address these questions, the Center for American Progress has conducted research over a two-and-a-half year period to identify and study schools and districts across the country with more learning time. This report identifies more than 300 current initiatives in high-poverty and high-minority schools across 30 states, implemented between 1991 and 2007. It also offers snapshots of school and district initiatives that incorporate additional learning time into the school calendar.
In presenting these initiatives, this report touches on why schools and districts choose to expand learning time, how that time was added to the calendar, and what additional time means for schools and students. This report also begins to consider the impact of more time on student achievement.
The purpose of this report is not to define expanded learning time and describe how it works. That work has already been conducted by the Center for American Progress in several reports and by Massachusetts 2020 / The National Center on Time and Learning—our partners in the promotion of expanded learning time. Instead, this document focuses on the extension and use of learning time as a school improvement strategy.
Given our definition of expanded learning time, efforts identified in this report were selected based on the following criteria:
- Schools with a student population that is at least 50 percent low-income
- Schools with minority student populations in excess of 50 percent
- A combination of traditional public schools and charter schools
- A mixture of elementary, middle, and high schools
- School districts that have lengthened learning time for multiple schools
A number of school and district efforts were excluded for a variety of reasons. Many are expanded learning in name but not by definition. These programs are typically wraparound services, such as before- and after-school programming, are offered on a voluntary basis, are sometimes offered on a fee basis, or are tutoring services under No Child Left Behind’s Supplemental Educational Services provision. As such, these out-of-school programs are not an extension of the official school day, week, or year for all students in the school. Other efforts were excluded because the time added was not substantial enough, fiscal constraints led to the end of initiatives, and in a few cases efforts were not well-planned or implemented.
There are, however, a few exceptions noted in this report. They are included to show the ways in which expanded learning time can be implemented in a more incremental manner and the ways in which it can be targeted to meet the specific learning needs of students. Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, and California’s West Fresno School District, Los Penasquitos Academy, and Cunha Intermediate School do not fit our whole-school definition of expanded learning time, but they do exhibit the positive ways in which schools and districts are implementing innovative strategies to help students improve their academic performance. These partial expanded learning time programs all serve as examples of efforts to rethink the school calendar and to do so often with limited resources. These efforts are intentional, well-planned, student-focused, and provide a possible intermediary step to the full implementation of expanded learning as we have defined it.
The work that is presented in this report is the culmination of research collected over the course of the last two-and-a-half years. In doing so, we have conducted ongoing research to identify and explore schools and districts that have lengthened learning time. Research leads came primarily from periodicals and other news accounts, as well as word of mouth and deep and persistent web-based research. Efforts that looked promising led to phone interviews with school and district personnel, state administrators and agency personnel, and discussions with others who have knowledge of implemented initiatives.
The Center for American Progress sought to learn the history of each effort and the impetus for transitioning to more learning time, to understand how more time was added to the school calendar and how it is used, and to identify any trends regarding planning, implementation, and/or results. Based on this research we have made the following findings.
Read the full report (pdf)