A remarkable coalition made up of over 100 pioneers in education and other fields has come together to advocate for extend classroom time in order to reverse the academic decline in low-income schools. Expanded learning, adopted via a redesigned school schedule, including multiple shifts, longer school days, and lengthened academic calendar, is an approach that has been successfully tested in many low-income communities in both United States and abroad. There are pilot expanded learning time programs being tried in Chicago, Boston, New York, Newark and many other localities. The positive results being achieved by these limited test cases are what motivated the formation of the Time to Succeed coalition whose goal to see the number of schools taking advantage of similar tools double over the next two years.
The Obama administration is supporting the expanded time experiments with over $4.6 billion in federal funding, with additional money being allocated at the state and local level.
Luis A. Ubiñas, President of the Ford Foundation and one of the first signatories to the coalition charter, explained that there although there have been many changes in the American day-to-day life in the past century, the school days are still structured to accommodate a way of life that no longer exists.
“To build a vibrant future as a nation, we have to equalize learning opportunities for all children,” said Ubiñas. “Afterschool programs, while engaging and educational, are not available to all kids, and are not enough to solve the core problem. What is needed is a strategic redesign of the school day, where teaching practices are modernized to accommodate the unique needs of today’s world, today’s economy, and today’s family life.”
The Coalition is focusing its effort on low-income communities and disadvantaged schools, where achievement is hampered by inadequate time for learning and a dearth of opportunities outside of school for engagement, and growth.
Research into the reconfigured and expanded school calendar showed that a well-designed school day amplifies the effectiveness of other improvement strategies. In addition, more hours of class time, means that there is less of a tradeoff between time dedicated to bring kids up to class level in literacy and numeracy, and teaching them other essential subjects such as science, music, history, and even physical education.
The coalition co-chair Chris Gabrieli sites the results shown by one of Arizona’s poorest school districts as an example of what can happen when students get more time to learn:
The Balsz Elementary School District #31 in Phoenix, Arizona, has expanded the school year by 20 days for all its students. With the expanded time, the students—90% of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch—are seeing dramatic gains on their reading skills. By the time a kindergärtner in this district reaches eighth grade, they will have received an additional year of school.