Press Release

Expanding Learning Time

New Center for American Progress Report examines the benefits of extended learning time in high school

Washington, DC – Many of the American high schools succeeding at raising student achievement and closing the achievement gap have figured out ways to increase the length of their school day and/or year. The idea of expanding the time for learning as we raise standards and expectations for students deserves more attention in high school reform debates, particularly for students in low-performing schools who are unlikely to reach higher standards without more time and support.

A new Center for American Progress report (PDF) authored by Hilary Pennington examines high schools that implement extra learning time as part of the required educational program for all students (rather than providing voluntary after-school programs). It explores particular issues related to expanding time at the high school level, presents examples of how schools accomplish this, and analyzes the implications that would arise for school design, capacity, and financing if such approaches were applied on a more systemic scale.

“High schools that serve large numbers of low-income students and successfully prepare them for postsecondary education and the workplace invariably expand learning and development time,” said Cindy Brown, Director of Education Policy for the Center for American Progress. “We need to find ways to expand these efforts through the design of publicly funded incentives. Expanding learning time may be the only way to catch kids up and get them on a pathway to productive adulthood.”

A key attribute of successful extended learning time schools is their recognition that extended learning offerings at the high school level need to engage and interest young people, and to accommodate their need to work and/or pursue interests outside of school. Student surveys suggest that the most exciting extended school options are those that help them advance towards their postsecondary aspirations by giving them access to work experience and to college credit.

The paper advocates more systematic experimentation with extended learning time. This will require supportive public policy at the state and federal levels. It also will require an iterative process of working through some of the challenges associated with extending learning time at the high school level in terms of culture, capacity, and cost and adapting policy accordingly.

One of the greatest potential benefits of expanding the time and place for learning is the chance to experiment with the kinds of “out-of-the box” approaches to high school education which are sorely needed if we are to reach our goals for raising student achievement and eliminating inequities in achievement and graduation rates. Both philanthropy and government (local, state, and federal) can play a significant role in helping this happen.

State Governments Can: 

  • Create an Extended Learning Time Initiative.
  • Deliberately encourage the development of charter schools and new schools that use an extended–time model.
  • Adopt a weighted student funding formula which would provide extra resources for students in greatest need and specify that an allowable use of funds would be expanding learning time.
  • Develop the expertise to support extending the school day or year as a standard part of state interventions in low-performing schools or reconstitution of failing schools.
  • Encourage the use of technology to supplement the curriculum offerings in high poverty schools.

The Federal Government Can:

  • Allow the blending of federal funding streams for the purpose of extending learning.
  • Change the ways in which Supplemental Educational Services (SES) funds can be used.
  • Fund a pilot/demonstration.
  • Encourage the use of technology to supplement the curriculum offerings in high poverty schools.

Click here to read the entire report: Expanding Learning Time in High Schools. (PDF)

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