Student Achievement

Creative Ways to Increase Learning Time When Money Is an Object

By Kathryn Baron — December 09, 2014 4 min read
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Expanded learning time doesn’t always involve lengthening the school day or year. Some California high schools are using creative scheduling to restructure the school day to make room for career-pathway programs, according to a joint report from the Center for American Progress and the Alliance for Excellent Education.

The report profiles schools that are part of Linked Learning, a pathways model designed to prepare underrepresented students for college and career through hands-on experiential education. In addition to college-preparatory classes, programs certified by Linked Learning have to offer internships and technical courses that don’t fit into the traditional six-period school day.

So far, Linked Learning has certified 37 California high schools and career pathways programs. Some have lengthened the academic calendar, but others are limited by teacher contracts, student transportation, and finances.

“Although high-quality and well-planned expanded learning time is a promising strategy to boost student achievement, it can be challenging to implement,” write authors Monica Almond and Tiffany Miller. “However, there are many ways to meet these challenges.”

Skyline High School in Oakland, Calif., switched from six to seven periods without increasing the school day or giving teachers a bigger course load. They created the extra period by shaving off seven minutes from each class, cutting them from 58 to 51 minutes, and slicing a minute from passing time, leaving students with five minutes to get to class.

Teachers still only have five classes. In addition to their daily prep period, they get a second period every day to collaborate with other teachers in their pathway or department.

Meeeting the Linked Learning requirement was just one reason for the change, said Anya Gurholt, Oakland Unified’s career and college pathway coach. Another impetus was Skyline’s positive results with its schedule for freshmen teachers, who only teach four periods a day in order to have daily collaborative time.

“It was so incredibly successful, but we weren’t able to financially afford to give every single teacher on campus only four classes a day,” said Gurholt.

Without the extra period, Gurholt added, pathways students wouldn’t have time for internships or job shadowing. A little more than half of Skyline’s 1,800 students are in one of the three pathways—education, computer technology, and green energy. The other students can use the additional period for electives, AP courses, physical education, career technical classes, or to make up courses they failed.

Even if the district had the money and support from the teachers’ union to add more hours to the school day, Gurholt doubts they would do it, because most of the students are from low-income families and have other responsibilities.

“Many of our students are secondary caretakers to younger siblings, or they might have a job, and so extending the school day to 4 or 5 o’clock would not be an option,” she explained.

Other districts contract with outside organizations or write grants to provide before- and after-school courses aligned with their pathways. Sacramento City Unified School District, one of nine Linked Learning districts in California, offers after-school programs tied to many of the district’s 19 pathways and funded through federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grants.

Attendance is voluntary, but strongly encouraged, and the courses are designed to be enticing rather than simply a 7th period class with students sitting behind desks and teachers lecturing. In the robotics program, which is aligned with the engineering and computer-science pathways, students design, program, and build robots and then enter them in competitions. Students in the law pathway might work with attorneys after school to help them prepare for mock trial matches.

Sacramento City’s five comprehensive high schools have 19 pathway programs where students can get hands-on experience in such fields and industries as art, building trades, and construction, finance and business, health science, marketing, and public services. At the same time, they complete all the academic requirements for admission to the University of California and California State University.

Theresa McEwen, director Sacramento City Unified’s high school redesign, said the pathways and after school programs are part of an ongoing effort by the district to move away from the traditional high school model designed a century ago where students sit in one classroom until the bell rings and then move to another seat in another classroom.

“What we’re talking about now in our district is what it means to graduate from high school college and career ready,” said McEwen,"to say, when a student graduates this is what we want them to know and be able to do [and] what does it take to get them there.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.