School & District Management

Study Eyes Effect of Extra Learning Time on Scores

By Catherine Gewertz — December 07, 2009 4 min read
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The first national database of schools that have added learning time to their schedules, which was released this week, suggests that the extra time might play a role in boosting middle and high school achievement.

The National Center on Time & Learning, which assembled and analyzed the database, found a moderate association between increased time and how well students did on their states’ standardized English and mathematics tests compared with their peers in nearby schools on regular schedules.

Jennifer Davis, the president of the center, said that even though more than a quarter-century has passed since the influential report A Nation at Risk called for more time on task in America’s classrooms, she believes the country is now reaching a “tipping point” because many more schools are actually trying it. As that happens, she said, it becomes more important to build a base of knowledge about how schools are using the extra time and what outcomes they’re seeing “to ensure that the added time is having the educational impact we all want.”

The Boston-based research and advocacy group found that 6th, 7th, 8th, and 10th graders in expanded-time schools outscored other students by 3 to 8 percentage points. The same pattern did not hold true among students in grades 3, 4, and 5. The study did not examine other grades.

Another analysis in the study found that schools that added the most time had better student performance in grades 7 and 10 than those that added less time. No similar pattern was found at other grade levels.

The report emphasizes that the analysis is only “exploratory” because the data are not complete or representative enough to support a conclusion that more school time yields better student achievement. Its author, David A. Farbman, said he views the data as a “shot across the bow” to prompt more-definitive research about the practices and outcomes of extended-time schools. Researchers have only recently begun to explore the effect of time on achievement. (“Research Yields Clues on the Effects of Extra Time for Learning,” Sept. 24, 2008.)

The achievement findings and other information in the study form an early, rough portrait of schools that have decided to expand their academic days or years in an effort to improve student performance. It is of potential interest as educators and policymakers advocate added learning time as an improvement strategy.

Artist Jane Lattimore, center, helps Izabella Murphy make a Massachusetts map out of plaster in her 3rd grade class at Jacob Hiatt. Ms. Lattimore teaches at the school through a cultural partnership with the Worcester Art Museum.

President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have argued for longer school schedules, and adopting them is one of the factors that can help states win the federal Race to the Top grants financed under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

25 Percent More

In Massachusetts, 22 schools are taking part in a 4-year-old state initiative that provides more resources to schools to expand learning time. Rhode Island recently announced planning grants to help schools do likewise in three urban areas.

The national center compiled information about 655 expanded-time schools and surveyed about a third of them, producing findings about their characteristics and practices. The database is not a complete list of all schools that have added time to their schedules, and it is tilted heavily toward charter schools. It also does not control for various demographic factors.

The online database and the report were funded by the Menlo Park, Calif.-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which also helps support Education Week’s coverage of the economic stimulus and education.

Schools in the database provide, on average, 25 percent more time—totaling about three more years over the span of a student’s education—than the national norm, the study concluded. When they add time, they more often add it to the day than to the year. Schools in the database average 467 minutes per day, compared with a national norm of 340 to 400 minutes. They average 185 days of school per year, compared with 175 to 180 nationally.

Extended-time schools in the database also serve greater proportions of racial-minority and low-income students than do schools on regular schedules, the researchers found.

The study found that charter schools that extended their schedules averaged 58 more hours—roughly two weeks—per year than other public schools that had done so.

Half the extended-time schools said they paid teachers more for the additional time—an average of 13.6 percent more—and half did not. Only one-third of teachers in the extended-time schools are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, according to the study.

The researchers also analyzed what students and teachers spend time on in extended-time schools, but did not compare those findings with how time is spent in other schools, or how it was spent before an extended schedule was adopted. The study did find, however, that in 7th grade, added time was used largely for planning, personal, and supervisory duties rather than teaching.

An-Me Chung, a program officer at the Flint, Mich.-based Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which has long supported and studied after-school programs and extended-learning time in schools, said the study offers a valuable early picture of some aspects of expanded time. (The Mott Foundation also helps underwrite Education Week’s stimulus coverage.)

But she said it would offer greater insight if it had compared those practices with what was occurring before the schools added time, and to demographically similar schools that did not add time. She was also troubled by the study’s narrow focus.

“What is it that is happening during that time that’s different? I would like to have seen more about that,” Ms. Chung said. “Learning needs to be the focus here, not just time.”

A version of this article appeared in the December 09, 2009 edition of Education Week as National Database Rounds Up Schools With Extended Time

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