Extended Learning Time Works if Done Well

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Extending the school day is one of many reforms to boost student learning, but for it to be successful, the additional time must be used well and teachers compensated for it, AFT president Randi Weingarten says.


Weingarten appeared on an Oct. 25 panel on expanding learning time, sponsored by the National Center on Time and Learning and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The issue is timely in Boston, where the Boston Teachers Union and city officials have agreed in contract negotiations to add 30 minutes to the school day—though the union had recommended more time—but the city is refusing to pay teachers for the extended learning time.

"Boston students, especially disadvantaged children, would be well-served if the city made the investment in an extended learning time program that's designed and implemented well and that compensates teachers for the added time," Weingarten says. "Doing both is good for kids and fair to teachers."

"Boston is asking teachers to subsidize a whole new program—extended learning time—and not pay them. Even in tough times, no one would ask working people to do that," she said.

The Boston Teachers Union says the price tag is about $11 million annually for 3,000 Boston teachers. The union notes that the school district does not have a budget shortfall like other systems around the country.

The National Center on Time and Learning concluded, in a study of 30 schools with expanded learning time, that "more time is a powerful lever for boosting student achievement, closing opportunity gaps and improving teacher effectiveness. The challenge is to use time wisely and well."

Randi Weingarten in Boston

Weingarten cited Clarence Edwards Middle School in Boston, one of several Massachusetts pilots using extended learning time and paying teachers for the additional teaching time. "Clarence Edwards is really quite a compelling example of what can be done when teachers and district officials work things out collaboratively," she says. Edwards' extended time model was designed by the school's teachers. The achievement gap between Edwards and the state as a whole has narrowed by 80 percent in English language arts and by two-thirds in science, and 8th graders now exceed the state proficiency rate by eight points in math.

She also cited New York City's Chancellor's District, in which the lowest-performing schools had a longer school day for enrichment and remediation programs as well as professional development for teachers. Students in the district, which no longer exists, performed significantly better than comparable district schools on state reading tests.

And at Ethel Taylor Academy in Cincinnati, after-school programs include enrichment activities, tutoring and mentoring, a hot dinner, parent and family engagement, and health and wellness activities. The program is integrated into the regular school day. It has produced a 42.4 percent increase in the number of students scoring proficient or higher on the state standardized test; behavioral incidents have dropped and parental engagement has soared.

Massachusetts 2020, which has been leading the expanded learning time initiative in the state, cites five primary benefits of adding time to the traditional school day: more time on task, greater depth and breadth of learning, more time for planning and professional development, more time for enrichment and experiential learning, and stronger relationships between teachers and students. The Harvard Family Research Project identified a range of benefits associated with well-designed and well-run after-school and summer programs, including positive outcomes for academics, social-emotional health, risky behavior prevention, and health and wellness.

"Extended learning time," Weingarten says, "isn't a magic bullet. It can be one of many tools to improve student achievement, but it has to be done well, with teacher voice and buy-in. And it is important for the district to pay for it, not ask the teachers to subsidize it." [AFT press release/photo by Ilene Perlman]

October 25, 2011