If less time in the classroom is a cause of poor student performance, can adding more time be the cure? This strategy underlies a major effort to fix the nation’s worst public schools. Billions of federal stimulus dollars are being spent to expand learning time on behalf of disadvantaged children. And extended learning time (ELT) is being proposed as a core strategy for school turnaround.
But the hard truth is that there is far more research showing the ill effects of unequal time than research showing that ELT policies can make up the difference. In a new Education Sector report, Senior Policy Analyst Elena Silva takes a look at what the research says... and doesn’t say... about the impact of ELT on student learning and how low-performing schools are proposing and implementing ELT policies.
Off the Clock: What More Time Can (and Can’t) Do for School Turnarounds takes a look at the facts — and the myths — about school calendars and schedules. States still have the power to regulate the time students spend in school. Most states spell out a minimum number of days — and hours — that students are required to be in school. But the requirements vary widely. Some states, for instance, count passing periods, lunch, assemblies, and assessments as instructional time, while others discount one or all of these.
But the states that require more instructional time do not necessarily perform any better than those that require less. In part, Silva says, that is because schools do not all use the time they have available in the most effective way. Inexperienced teachers, leader and staff turnover, and a culture of low expectations are all impediments to making the best use of every instructional minute.
ELT is one of the key elements of the federal government’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. More than 90 percent of SIG schools have selected one of two options — “turnaround” and “transformation” — that mandate more time. Education Sector analyzed the data on how schools are actually increasing learning time and found a wide range of options, including:
- Adding more time to the school day and year;
- Expanding time outside the regular school schedule, often by partnering with community agencies; and
- Changing the way time is used.
Some schools are successfully adding learning time using these approaches. But, Silva argues, far too many SIG grantees showed a lack of capacity — the staff, the structures, the funds — to gain enough time to make a difference or to use that time well.
It is not extended time alone that will lead to greater student success, argues Silva. Rather, it is when extended time is a part of a broader strategy. In other words, ELT is a necessary, but not sufficient, component of improving education for poor children.
“New designs for extended time should be a part of the nation’s school improvement plans,” Silva concludes. “But policymakers and school leaders must recognize that successful schools use time not just to extend hours and days but to creatively improve how and by whom instruction is delivered. In the end, the ELT movement is more likely to leave a legacy of school and student success if it becomes less about time and more about quality teaching and learning.”