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1,000 schools vs. 1,000 school districts

In his opening remarks at last week’s Extending Learning Time Conference, Chris Gabrieli, the cofounder and Chairman of the National Center for Time and Learning, indicated that there were currently 1,000 schools in the US that have extended learning time beyond the length of the traditional school day. He correctly put the number in context by saying this was only the beginning and there was still significant work left to do as a nation. While 1,000 schools is indeed a great accomplishment, I was struck that the measure of progress was in units of schools rather than school districts. We, the entire educational community, are only willing to make small exceptions to the rules that govern our structures, processes and practices. This approach results in small incremental changes. If we are truly going to change our educational system, we can no longer approach reform one school at a time. We need to tackle reform more systemically. It is time for the exception to be the rule.

With respect to Extended Learning Time (ELT) across the country, ERS is not seeing systemic district-wide changes. ELT is generally being implemented in (a) Turnaround (SIG) schools supported by extra federal dollars and imposed flexibilities to teacher contract provisions and state laws or (b) one-off district sponsored “innovation” schools that are granted more flexibility over their resources. So if the evidence is clear that ELT improves student achievement and closes the achievement gap, why do we not see it happening as a district-side strategy? Answer—without changing the rules of the game, ELT is just too expensive. 

Extended Learning Time

What rules need to be revised to facilitate systemic implementation of ELT? Here is just a sample:

  • Teacher compensation. The single salary schedule inhibits the reallocation of compensation dollars to reflect new instructional delivery models.
  • Teacher and staff work rules. Specific provisions that govern the length of day, the length of year, and the length of class period impose constraints on district’s ability to use time flexibly to meet student needs.
  • Certification Requirements.  ELT often becomes extra time rather than integrated into the school day because state certification rules and contract provisions inhibit districts from leveraging community agencies and other experts to support teachers in providing instruction and enrichment services.

If we believe that a longer school day is required to improve achievement for our most needy children, then we need to rethink the rules so that all students can benefit rather than the lucky few who are able to take advantage of the exceptions. It would be great at the next Extended Learning conference if the opening speaker begins with the pronouncement that 1,000 districts have extended their day beyond the traditional length. Or better yet, it would be great not to need another conference.


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