Case study: Expanded learning time worked in one California school

25 Mar

Nora Fleming reports in the Education Week article, Expanded Learning Time Linked to Higher Test Scores:

Improved student performance was just one of the gains found after Tumbleweed Elementary School implemented an expanded learning time model, according to a new case study from the National Center of Time & Learning. The new brief is the second in a series released by the center that looks at schools that have recently added more time to the school day or year and seen early, positive gains.

Tumbleweed Elementary, a school in the Palmdale district north of Los Angeles, had been chronically underperforming since the 1990s and had not made Adequate Yearly Progress markers (mandated by No Child Left Behind) since the law was adopted in 2001, according to the brief. To improve the school, the district applied for (and won) a three-year, $6 million federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) in 2009, and crafted a turnaround strategy that focused on how added time could improve student outcomes and school climate.

The challenges were significant, says brief authors, especially given that the school was diverse, overcrowded, (with average class sizes hovering around 30 students), and had high rates of poverty (94 percent of students qualify for free and reduced price lunch).

To implement the new model, 41 new teachers were placed at the school, along with a new principal. The school added an hour to the day to be used for more math instruction, professional development time for teachers, and academic supports for students who were falling behind in particular subjects.

After the first year of implementation in 2010-2011, the school saw a 14 point gain in student English language arts scores and a 23 point gain in math on the California state standardized tests, and met Adequate Yearly Progress markers (NCLB) for the first time. There were small performance gains the following year as well, and overall, student behavior was said to significantly improve when new behavior and academic expectations were set.

However, the brief makes clear that the added time was not the sole reform that has supported improved school performance during this time period. The school also focused on improving the use of data to track students and measure their progress, creating student incentives to improve behavior and school climate, and placing an emphasis on the need for teacher collaboration.

Fleming also reported on expanded learning’s limitations

In the Education Week article, Expanded Learning Time Not Always a Cure-All, Report Says, Fleming reported about the Educator Sector’s analysis of expanded learning time:

Interest has increased in adding more time to the school day, but many schools are ill equipped to put time to the most effective use for improving student and school outcomes, says a new report from Education Sector, a Washington-based think tank focused on education policy.

In the report, Education Sector looks at nationwide trends with schools implementing expanded learning models, in addition to focusing on schools that used ELT as a turnaround strategy to receive federal School Improvement Grants.

According to “What More Learning Time Can (and Can’t) Do for Turnarounds,” a few approaches to expand learning have been used nationwide: adding time to the formal school schedule, expanding learning outside the regular school schedule, and changing the way time is used doing the school day. Examples of some of the innovative ELT models that have been effective in improving outcomes, such as the TASC model in New York, the Citizen Schools model in Boston, and the Providence After School Alliance model in Providence, are also profiled in the report.

While adding time to the formal school schedule has gained more appeal, particularly for policymakers as a solution for improving schools, more schools are actually still expanding learning through after-school, summer, and other efforts not tied to the traditional classroom day.

But not all ELT efforts nationally compare with those mentioned above, says report author Elena Silva, who I spoke with for a story on ELT this past fall.

For expanded time to be most effective, she writes, schools should not focus on the time itself but on connecting added time to other reforms. More schools, especially those serving the neediest students, are looking to ELT as a quick fix for improvement, but do not put enough effort into the “comprehensive reform” of their schools that ELT must be a part of to be effective. This is often due to lack of know-how or lack of supports, staffing, funding, and so forth, the article says, but as more schools look to add time, they should err on the side of caution, particularly as federal policymakers push ELT as a solution to improving underperforming schools.

Here is the Education Sector summary: 

Off the Clock: What More Time Can (and Can’t) Do for School Turnarounds

Reports & Briefs |

Elena Silva

| March 29, 2012

Related Issue(s): Accountability and School Improvement, K-12 Education, Expanded Learning and School Time

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. What does the research really say about the impact of ELT on student learning, and how is it being implemented in our nation’s lowest-performing schools?

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. Extended learning time is one of the key elements of the federal government’s SIG program. More than 90 percent of the schools in the program have selected one of two options—”turnaround” and “transformation”—that mandate more time.

Education Sector reviewed data on how these schools are actually using “increased learning time” mandated by the federal government. The variations are wide—from adding minutes to the school day to providing after-school programs to shortening recess and lunch. Some approaches show clear potential, while others face considerable limits to implementation.

“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.”

This report was funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Education Sector thanks the foundation for its support. The views expressed in the paper are those of the author alone.

Download Full Report


Expanded Learning Time in Action: Initiatives in High-Poverty and High-Minority Schools and Districts                                                                                      

In Good schools are relentless about basics: School day length, moi said:

Rosalind Rossi, education reporter for the Chicago Sun Times is reporting in the article, 2011 Illinois school report cards: Top schools have longer days.

The 10 highest-ranking suburban neighborhood elementary schools all have longer days for kids than the typical Chicago public school — but shorter ones than those advocated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and city public school officials.

Chicago’s current typical 5-hour and 45-minute elementary school day — usually without a regular recess — looks paltry compared to a top-scoring 2011 suburban average of just under 6½ hours that includes daily recess, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis indicates.

However, Chicago’s proposed 7½-hour day would keep city elementary kids in school an hour more than their top-scoring suburban counterparts. Such a day is appealing even to some suburban parents.

The Mid Continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) has great information posted at its site about school day length.

According to McRel in the article, Extended School Days and School Years:

Does more time in school matter?

Several scholars have argued that simply extending school time in and of itself will not produce the desired results. Larry Cuban, a Stanford University professor of education, has argued for example that what matters most is not the quantity but the quality of time students and teachers spend together in the classroom (2008).

In our 2000 meta-analysis of the impact of school, teacher, and student-level variables on achievement, McREL concluded that student achievement can be strongly affected if schools optimize their use of instructional time.

In 1998 WestEd researchers Aronson et al. examined the research on time and learning and arrived at three conclusions:

  • There is little or no relationship between student achievement and the total number of days or hours students are required to attend school.
  • There is some relationship between achievement and engaged time, that subset of instructional time when students are participating in learning activities.
  • The strongest relationship exists between academic learning time and achievement.

However, in recent years some notable extended time initiatives have produced gains in test scores, graduation rates, and college attendance, including the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), which increases the amount of time students spend in school by nearly 60%, and Massachusetts 2020. Conversely, a $100 million effort in Miami to extend school days by one hour and add 10 days to the calendar produced no significant benefits.

The key seems to be longer time spent in instructional activities.      

Where information leads to Hope. ©     Dr.

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