Understanding the Costs to Expand Learning Time in School

On Monday, February 10, the National Center on Time and Learning (NCTL) held a Webinar titled “Understanding the Costs to Expand Learning Time in School.” The Webinar reported on findings from the “Financing Expanded Learning Time Schools” report, which was released with support from The Wallace Foundation.

The presenters included David Farbman, Ph.D., Senior Researcher at NCTL; Nina Sonenberg, Ph.D., Communications Officer at The Wallace Foundation; Heather Clapp Padgette, Consultant with Cross & Joftus; and Olga Hugelmeyer, Superintendent for Elizabeth, New Jersey Public Schools.

Sonenberg introduced the Webinar and noted the growing interest in the Expanded Learning Time (ELT) movement. Sonenberg then explained how certain “knowledge gaps” and lack of data concerning funding expanded learning programs can sometimes serve as barriers to schools. The report, Sonenberg explained, provides five case studies, which explore and outline a variety of funding streams to implement expanded learning programs.

Farbman, one of the authors of the report, then briefly defined expanded learning time (ELT), which is the practice of providing significantly more learning time for all students during the school day or year. Farbman also provided some context for the study, and outlined some key findings. Some of the elements of ELT, Farbman explained, are providing expanded learning time as more time for every student, a more balanced approach to the school day, an implementation based on proven practices, an inclusive planning process over the course of one year, accountability, and finding a cost-effective, sustainable solution.

The report poses four key questions:

  • How much does an expanded-time program cost on a per-student and per-hour basis?
  • How are costs allocated across various categories of school expenditures?
  • What are the key sources of funding?
  • What do the extra dollars pay for and what are the benefits for teaching and learning as reported by practitioners?

The study’s methodology included interviews with principals, partners, and district administrators. It also included a thorough review of school budgets.

Key Findings

Funding:

One of the key findings of the report was that the funding and cost structures of the schools differed considerably, but the educational enhancements offered were similar. Some schools used state, federal or local tax money exclusively, such as Elizabeth Public Schools, and some funded their programs with the assistance of private funds, as in the case of McGlone Elementary in Denver, Colorado. The participating schools secured a wide range of funding, including federal, state, local, and philanthropic sources, and used these additional funds to designate a day for intensive tutoring, expand enrichment classes and activities, and be able to have more time for teachers’ professional development. Farbman explained that the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG), for example, and state-level funding programs have been helpful in the creation or continuation of expanded-time schools.

Each school secured and allocated funding specifically to support more school time. It was also important to consider that none of schools in the study are guaranteed continued funding, so administrators are responsible for either securing additional resources or re-adjusting the allocation of funds to cover program costs. Yet, the study also found that ELT can also help attract revenues because it is a promising new approach to classroom learning and philanthropic dollars tend to gravitate to successful models.

Costs:

To address the costs of the expanded-time efforts, Padgette explained how costs factored into the study. She also explained that in terms of program costs, the study showed a wide range across the different schools, but the value universally proved to be worth the cost: across the five schools, they achieved nearly 30 percent more student time for less than 10 percent additional cost. Padgette also explained that in terms of teacher pay, the report showed a rise in teacher salaries of 6 percent for every 10 percent of increased time. Overall, the report showed substantial increases in learning time for a low increase in overall costs across the range of schools studied.

Hugelmeyer discussed expanded-time from her school district’s perspective.  She explained the importance of continuously examining the line-item costs of the program, and making adjustments accordingly. Elizabeth Public Schools aims to continue to provide expanded learning time and to become equity-focused, regardless of socioeconomic background.

Staff time:

In McGlone Elementary School’s case, staff autonomy played a significant role in their success. McGlone is unique in that it is classified as an Innovation school, thus providing the principal a great deal of budgetary autonomy. The principal paid for half of the school’s tutor costs by re-allocating existing funds and also by raising additional private funds. Additional autonomy and flexibility around staffing, budgeting, and scheduling gave districts and schools the advantage in adopting ELT strategies and offered the potential to continue their success.

Elmhurst Prep in Oakland also expanded their staff time dramatically. They extended their school day by 41 percent, compared to surrounding-area schools. To accomplish this, Elmhurst exclusively used community partners to staff their additional hours; teachers worked zero additional hours. Elmhurst’s model included an intense focus on academic support, enrichment programming, and more time for professional development. Elmhust also incorporated Americorp Fellows to assist in their program. Overall, they achieved 40 percent more time for a 19 percent increase in cost.

George Knowles is a communications associate at the American Youth Policy Forum. 

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