Extended Learning Schedules Catch On at Struggling Schools

Schools receiving federal improvement grants in 46 states have added learning time to improve student performance, according to a new report.
by | July 12, 2012 AT 3:00 PM

Although increased learning time has been implemented at schools in nearly every state that's received federal School Improvement Grants (SIGs), emphasis on it has varied across schools and states, and some state officials note that it's too early to gauge the impact of it, according to a new report from the Center on Education Policy (CEP).

Each of the 46 states responding to CEP’s inquiries said that some of the schools that received SIGs in their state had implemented extended learning schedules. Two of the four turnaround models outlined by the U.S. Department of Education when awarding the grants require added learning time. The department has awarded more than $3.5 billion in SIGs since 2009, mostly to poorly performing schools.

More than half of the 45 states with schools that have used the “transformation” model, which includes replacing a school’s administration and most of its staff, said that increased learning time “is key” to improving performance in struggling schools. Another dozen states said that the role of extended learning time varies from school to school, and five said it was too soon to tell what role increased learning time would have.

The CEP report included a closer examination of case studies in Idaho, Maryland and Michigan. One Idaho school has implemented a “flex time” period that allows struggling students to make up missed work, attend tutoring sessions or participate in an enrichment course. School officials told CEP that the added period is expected to make an immediate impact on student test scores. A Maryland school has focused its extended learning opportunities on students that have been held back for one or more years -- although other students were also encouraged to attend.

In some Michigan schools, however, school leaders have struggled to implement extended learning time. State and local officials have clashed about whether SIGs require added time to core instructional periods during the day or if after-school tutoring sessions and Saturday classes would suffice. One school leader told CEP that, because SIGs are currently funding the extended learning schedule, she is concerned that “this will be a loss once SIG funds are gone” if other federal or state money can’t replace them.

As Governing has previously reported, early research suggests that extended learning schedules could have a significant impact on student achievement, particularly in schools with more low-income students. This May, a national coalition formed to encourage schools with disadvantaged students to add learning time. Its members include New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Massachusetts Education Secretary Paul Reville.

"Students and teachers deserve extra time to meet the ever-increasing demands that are placed on them," Jeff Smith, head of the coalition and superintendent of Balsz Elementary School in the Phoenix area, said at the time. Smith’s district expanded from a 180-day school year to a 200-day year and saw student test scores improve. "Extended learning time means extended opportunities."

The National Center on Time and Learning, which advocates for added learning time, has estimated that at least 1,000 schools in the United States operate on some kind of expanded schedule.

The full CEP report is below.