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Published in Print: January 24, 2007, as Approved July 2006 Panel Favors Extended View Of Learning

Panel Favors Extended View of Learning

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The nation needs to rethink its assumptions and policies on when, where, and how children learn, contends a report issued last week by a national panel.

The Time, Learning, and Afterschool Task Force, financed by the Flint, Mich.-based Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, highlights innovative programs and community efforts that incorporate after-school programs, extended days, mentoring, and student internships into the way educators conceive of time, learning, and the school day and year. It calls for creating a learning system that goes far beyond schools to help meet educational goals and prepare young people for the workforce.

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“We need to tear down the barriers we’ve imposed on ourselves,” Vincent L. Ferrandino, the chairman of the 19-member task force and the executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, said at a Jan. 17 press conference here. “School reform efforts are having an impact on some kids, but unfortunately, not all kids.”

The report, “A New Day for Learning,” calls for rethinking the school day so students have multiple ways of learning, new definitions of success, and access to educational resources throughout the community. Although the panel recommends no model, the report includes many examples to bolster its arguments.

“We are not getting very far, very fast because we persist in placing all the responsibility for teaching on the schools and on a short school day,” the report says. “Without a broader view of learning, all American school-age children will be denied access to experiences that will help them be successful lifelong learners.”

Watching the Clock

The report comes as policymakers and researchers are paying increased attention to the amount—and quality—of time children spend in and out of school.

Education Sector, a Washington think tank, was set to release a report Jan. 22 summarizing recent findings on the school day and calendar year. “On the Clock: Rethinking the Ways Schools Use Time,” supported by a grant from the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation, recommends that policymakers collect data on how time in schools is spent, adapt each program to the school’s specific context, and model school calendars after existing, successful programs.

Also this month, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, released findings from an ongoing study of the personal and social benefits that students reap from participating in effective after-school programs. Such programs, the report funded by the William T. Grant Foundation found, improved students’ self-confidence and positive feelings toward school.

Elements of a New Learning System

The Time, Learning, and Afterschool Task Force is calling for redesigning the education of children with these five elements at the forefront:

• A redefinition of student success.
• The use of knowledge about how students learn best throughout the day, early to late—and year round.
• Integrating various approaches to acquiring and reinforcing knowledge.
• Intentional collaboration across local, state, and national sectors.
• New leadership and professional-development opportunities.

Elena Silva, a senior policy analyst at Education Sector who wrote its report, said that while her study was specific to the school setting and the Mott Foundation task force recommends redesigning a child’s entire educational experience, both studies share how the current structure of learning could be improved.

“They’re not just about tacking on more time,” she said, “but about improving the quality of that time.”

Martin J. Blank, the staff director of the Coalition for Community Schools, a Washington-based group that advocates strong partnerships between schools and community institutions, called the Mott-supported report “the right direction at the right time.”

Its emphasis on intentional linkages between schools and community partners is crucial to students learning applicable skills, Mr. Blank said. He added that its message is timely because it raises questions about the kinds of skills students are tested on at a time when Congress is preparing to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act.

“We have to continue to push hard to broaden the assessment framework,” Mr. Blank said. “We have to add other dimensions to this.”

Broader Lens

The “new day” envisioned by the Time, Learning, and Afterschool Task Force consists of several elements. Student success should be redefined to include nontraditional skills, such as leadership, critical thinking, and facility in the arts. Assessments would need to be reworked to include evaluation of proficiency in those areas, it notes.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act has “played a very powerful role by displaying some uncomfortable findings” on student achievement, said Judith Johnson, the superintendent of the Peekskill, N.Y., schools since 2002 and a member of the task force. But testing needs to measure other skills, such as students’ ability to make interdisciplinary connections, to apply knowledge, and to show resiliency, she said.

In Ms. Johnson’s district, community members got together and designed an extended- day program that includes partnerships with local libraries, a university, and health-care providers. The experiences for students were designed based upon their descriptions of what type of schooling would inspire them.

Educators must use data about when children learn best throughout the day and year and incorporate that information into the school calendar, the report says. Also, they must integrate various approaches to acquiring knowledge into the school day.

“The idea is project-based learning, rather than textbook-based,” said Milton Chen, the executive director of the George Lucas Educational Foundation and a member of the panel.

Over the next year, the task force will continue to convene for discussion on implementation of its recommendations.

Vol. 26, Issue 20, Pages 1,25

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