Expanded Learning Time in Four States: Opportunities and Challenges

How can giving students and teachers more time at school benefit education outcomes? Schools across the country are implementing extended learning time (ELT) to answer this question. Expanded learning time is typically defined as hours added to the school day, week, or year so that a significant number of hours are added for student learning or teacher collaboration.

Many low-performing schools are implementing ELT in order to fulfill the federal requirements for School Improvement Grants (SIG) or meet conditions that govern waivers of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). States can also request additional flexibility by using the waiver to redirect some of their 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) grants to expand learning activities during the regular school day. ELT provisions of SIG and ESEA requirements are providing an important function by encouraging some of the nation’s most struggling schools to rethink their use of time.

The Center on Education Policy (CEP) recently released a report, Expanded Learning Time: A Summary of Findings from Case Studies in Four States, which describes case studies on state and local efforts to expand learning time. CEP investigated the strategies used by the sites to examine the federal provisions and encouragements for ELT. They selected 17 low-performing schools in 11 school districts within four states: Colorado, Connecticut, Oregon, and Virginia. Using interviews and key documents, the CEP team recorded the variation among schools, challenges, overall key findings, and policy implications.

Expanded Learning Time outlines the varied implementation of ELT in the diverse localities, including schools that:

  • Extended the start or end time of each school day or school year
  • Focused on professional development for teachers, either through teacher collaboration or professional development (PD) in addition to student instruction
  • Created strong connections with outside providers who were able to provide enrichment for students and revamp the school day by providing ELT to all students

Nearly every school identified funding as a major challenge. ELT is costly and the short-term nature of federal grants, especially SIG, makes sustaining the ELT programs beyond the grants’ end date the hardest challenge. Schools and districts also struggled with combining ELT requirements with existing local policy. For example, a district in Colorado had difficulty reconciling their existing regulation around competency-based education (CBE) with the ELT seat time requirement.

Student and teacher fatigue was also a challenge in implementing ELT for all four states. Many teachers struggled to keep their own energy and stamina up for their students, which resulted in some schools cutting back their extended hours. Other schools avoided student and teacher fatigue by balancing the extra time for instruction with academic and enrichment activities, or though program assistance from community partners.

Key Findings
CEP found that improving the quality of instruction was just as important for students as increasing the quantity of instructional time. Participants repeatedly warned the researchers about the potentially negative impact of additional time that is more of the same for students. Giving teachers more time for planning and professional development will help them develop their craft and, in turn, teach more effectively. Some benefits of teacher collaboration can even outlast federal funding and could have lasting impacts on student achievement for years after funding expires.

Student outcomes were improved in some, though not all, schools. This can be somewhat attributed to the variation of school ELT implementation. Some schools were just starting their ELT programs while others were near the end of their federal ELT funding, or even finished with their ELT grant. The test scores and graduation rates improved in some schools, while student preparedness for the classroom increased in others. The authors noted that not all outcomes are as easily measurable as a change in test scores and that some schools, like in Colorado, focused on better school culture and support systems. However, all interviewees gave cautious attribution to the ELT programs due to simultaneous reforms that were in place.

During implementation, districts and schools needed flexibility to design ELT strategies suited to specific contexts. In the case study schools, specific state policies, local governance structures, school context, and individual student and teacher needs determined what expanded learning time strategy was chosen.

Further information on this report is available online.

Garet Fryar is the Policy Research Assistant at the American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF).

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