Study Finds Successful Extended-Time Schools Strategize Learning

By Sarah D. Sparks — September 29, 2011 2 min read
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Schools that successfully extend learning time to improve student achievement change their practice in eight critical ways, according to a new study by the National Center on Time and Learning.

NCTL researchers led by Claire Kaplan, the center’s vice president of knowledge management and strategy, identified 30 schools nationwide with high concentrations of poverty that have used extended days, weeks or years to improve student achievement.

“One of the things that surprised us was the consistency across some of these practices,” Kaplan said. “It wasn’t just about expanding time for students; it was expanding time for teachers.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other experts will talk about the study in a live forumto be broadcast tomorrow. The report has not yet been posted online, but there’s a copy available here: NCTL Time Well Spent.pdf

The study backs previous research that suggests adding time without fully planning for it does not improve student achievement. The researchers found eight practices common to schools that improved student achievement using extended learning time:

• They “made every minute count” by maximizing time on task;
• Prioritized time use according to focused learning goals;
• Individualized instructional time based on students’ needs;
• Built a culture of high expectations and accountability;
• Included time for a “well-rounded” education, including arts;
• Used time to continuously improve instruction, such as teacher planning, collaboration and coaching;
• Set aside time to assess, analyze and respond to student data; and
• Included college and career readiness preparation.

The schools, both district and charter-managed, range from 188 to more than 800 students, across all grade ranges, and range in hours per year from a low of 1,277, at the MATCH Charter Public High School in Boston to a high of 1,680 hour at An Achievable Dream High School in Newport News, Va.

Over time, schools learned to both manage time better and increase their overall time, researchers found. Schools with limited budgets to increase time might start with rethinking their school hours to focus on learning goals and personalize instruction, and then over time add additional hours or days to increase time for teacher collaboration or college planning.

“You can see schools doing quite well without more time in one or two areas, but to do multiple things, there’s a trade-off for having a shorter day,” Kaplan said.

For example, Brooklyn Generation School in New York, which serves 320 students in grades 9-12, 80 percent of whom live in poverty, expanded its total time to 1,303 hours per year by creating a staggered schedule that also allowed for smaller class sizes in critical subjects.

Generations co-founder Jonathan Spear noted that the report emphasis on college and career readiness can often be overlooked, but has been critical at his school. The school includes a month-long intensive semester in which students meet with professionals in different career fields, learn about college and attend internships. While the students are out of school, teachers have time for professional development and planning.

“For students to be successful in school, they need to not only think about school, but be planning for what they will do beyond middle and high school to college and career,” Spear said.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.