A newly launched National Center on Time & Learning will provide research, advocacy, and technical assistance to efforts to increase academic and enrichment opportunities for students, officials said last week.
Some experts say such opportunities can help improve student performance overall and close achievement gaps between disadvantaged students and their better-off peers.
“The current school time is insufficient for achieving the goals we have set out … and for allowing a well-rounded education,” said Paul Reville, the chairman of the Massachusetts state board of education. He will co-chair the Boston-based center with Chris Gabrieli, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who served on Boston’s task force on after-school time.
“What we are asking our schools to do now in the 21st century,” Mr. Reville said, “far exceeds what can be done” in the so-called factory model of education that has dictated the school day for generations.
Earlier this year, a panel of prominent education experts released a report on the structure of the school day, concluding that more time spent on educational activities, and a better use of learning time, could help attempts to improve schools. (“Panel Favors Extended View of Learning,” Jan. 24, 2007.)
The national center plans to conduct or sponsor research, such as time audits, on how time is used now in schools and to review the scholarly literature on the most effective uses of additional learning time, according to its president, Jennifer Davis.
“We want to document the variety of ways of using time effectively in the school day,” said Ms. Davis, a former deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton administration. “We’re talking about more time used well.”
A bill now in Congress would finance district-level programs for expanded learning time, and the strategy is included in a discussion draft for the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act released recently by House education leaders.
Such undertakings are bound to face a number of challenges, though, according to Roy Romer, the chief of the Los Angeles Unified School District until last fall. In a meeting of prominent education leaders convened by the center, Mr. Romer said the cost of extending learning time—including teacher salaries and facilities expenses—could be considerable.
“You have to convince yourself that the cost is worthwhile,” said Mr. Romer, a former governor of Colorado. For parents, he suggested, the argument for extended learning time is that without it, “your child is not going to get prepared for success in the global economy.”
Marc S. Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, a research and advocacy organization in Washington, advised officials of the new center to look at how other countries structure the school day and year and what effect those strategies have on student achievement.
Mr. Reville said the center will promote the potential benefits of more learning time for all students, but that, at least initially, it will focus most of its attention on schools with large proportions of disadvantaged and struggling students, and on communities where students are less likely to have structured and supervised after-school activities.
The center wants schools not just to add to the time children spend in learning activities, he said, but also to rethink how the school day is structured.
“We don’t want kids sitting in their desks racing to the finish of a six-hour day until they get to do some physical activity, art, or music,” Mr. Reville said.
The center is being underwritten by the Eli and Edythe Broad Education Foundation, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Its mission is modeled in part after Massachusetts’ expanded-learning-time initiative, called Mass 2020, which provides grants to 19 schools that add at least 300 hours of academic and enrichment programming to the school year. (“Massachusetts Governor Unveils Education Overhaul Plan,” June 13, 2007.)