This week the Center on Education Policy (CEP) published another installment in their series of reports on state and school district implementation of the increased learning time provision required by two of the four school turnaround models within the Department of Education’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. Three case studies were presented examining how schools in Maryland, Idaho and Michigan are interpreting and implementing increased learning time through the SIG program. The case studies range from implementation challenges with adding time to the school day in Michigan, to successful outcomes with a comprehensive afterschool program approach in Maryland. The report’s findings are helpful in light of ongoing federal policy discussions on using the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative to increase learning time in schools.
- In Idaho, SIG-funded schools are generally adding instructional time by making school schedules more rigid, reducing less-productive time, and decreasing transition time between class periods. Assessment of this approach is ongoing but state officials acknowledge “the state has not made this a major priority in the state’s technical assistance or expectations.”
- Michigan’s approach to increased learning time under SIG emphasized adding 30-60 minutes to the school day for all students. In one instance, the 30 minutes per day is gained by adding five minutes per class. The report states “the strategy of increased learning time, however, was not among the three that administrators identified as the most salient elements of their SIG plan. Instead, administrators pointed to three other strategies as the most crucial elements of their plan: hiring qualified support staff (called a “SIG team”) to make professional development and support a regular part of the school culture; working with their new external provider, EdWorks; and updating the school’s technological resources.” Also mentioned is the concern that once SIG funding runs out, schools that added time to the school day will face challenges in funding the additional class time.
- Maryland has SIG turnaround schools providing comprehensive afterschool programming for the young people who have been identified as needing additional time and support based on test scores. According to the report, school-designed extended learning opportunities (ELOs) engage students through courses like cooking with mathematics, science inquiry, reading book clubs and technology clubs and are offered during the afterschool hours to the students identified as most in need. Lacey Robinson, co-principal at one Maryland SIG turnaround school, is quoted by the report: “Robinson said that extended learning opportunities funded by SIG are paying off in her school. Children in the surrounding community ‘just need something to do—parents are working, or they’re not at home, or there’s no one checking in on them,’ she said. ELOs have been an inspirational source of change for several Gholson students because ‘they know that somebody’s always here [for them]'."
The SIG program requires schools that select the transformation and turnaround improvement models to increase learning time by extending the school day, week or year. The Department of Education guidance defines increased learning time as follows:
… increasing the length of the school day, week, or year to significantly increase the total number of school hours so as to include additional time for (a) instruction in core academic subjects including English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography; (b) instruction in other subjects and provision of enrichment activities that contribute to a well-rounded education, such as physical education, service learning, and experiential and work-based learning opportunities; and (c) teachers to collaborate, plan, and engage in professional development within and across grades and subjects.