Grad Nation Summit Highlights Expanded Learning Time

Nancy Conneely is a senior associate at the National Center on Time & Learning, where she advocates for expanded learning time with members of Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, and other national organizations.

Expanded learning time was prominently featured at one of the largest, most widely covered education events of the year yesterday. America’s Promise Alliance, which was founded in 1997 by General Colin Powell, has been at the forefront of focusing the nation’s attention on the dropout crisis.  In 2010, America’s Promise launched its Grad Nation movement, which includes an annual Summit with nearly 1,000 participants.  The Summit brought together policymakers, educators, students, and business leaders in Washington, DC to discuss promising strategies for ending the dropout crisis. Among those strategies is expanded learning time (ELT), which was highlighted throughout the Summit. During the opening session, Alma Powell, Chair of America’s Promise, cited ELT as one of several “vital” pieces of the puzzle that can help students stay in school. 

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan lent his voice to the discussion, stressing the importance of partnerships between schools and the community to ensure that kids have a safe place to be when school lets out. Secretary Duncan envisions schools as the “hub” of the community, offering enrichment opportunities for students in partnership with non-profit and higher education partners. 
When asked about the importance of recess and physical education for students’ social and emotional development, Secretary Duncan said that students need time for both academics and physical activity, stating plainly, “School days are too short.” With tight budgets, schools are going to have to think differently about how they use their time, and about utilizing before school or after school hours to provide opportunities for physical activity. 
During a session on expanded learning opportunities, participants learned more about the challenges, as well as successes, of local schools and non-profits providing ELT, afterschool programs, and summer learning opportunities. The session was designed to help give participants useful knowledge and skills to bring back to their communities.  Leaders from high-performing expanded time schools described how their schools worked, but focused their presentations on how they started their schools and the barriers to change that they had to overcome.  Nancy Mullen, former principal of the Kuss Middle School in Fall River, Massachusetts described the process of taking over a chronically failing public school and searching for solutions with teachers, community partners, and district and state officials who all came together around expanded learning time.  Jonathon Spear, from Generation Schools, described the process of taking a creative new ELT school design to district and union officials in New York City and negotiating agreements that led to a school with both longer days and a longer year that fits within the city’s union contract.
To close out the session, we heard from General Powell, via video, about the support of America's Promise Alliance for expanded learning opportunities, which “helps young people enrich their lives through more and better learning time."  General Powell and Jeannie Oakes, Director of Educational Opportunity and Scholarship at the Ford Foundation, framed the importance of expanded learning time and then the video told the story of Orchard Gardens, an expanded learning time K-8 school in Boston, Massachusetts. NCTL has been working closely with Orchard Gardens since it began planning for its transformation to add more time in 2010.