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Last spring, I visited Elizabeth, New Jersey to conduct some research on one of the few districts in the country that has expanded school time for all its schools (30 total) and students (about 24,000). Imagine: 24 K – 8 and six high schools with a school day of over eight hours. When you’ve been in this field as long as I have, finding a district that is clearly outside the mainstream in terms of its school structure makes you stand up and take notice. 

Over 65,000 students are now in 132 expanded-time schools across 29 communities in Massachusetts. Once a reform in just a few schools in the Commonwealth, expanding learning time has now become a proven strategy in both district and charter schools. The state's schools join over 1,500 schools across the country that have expanded their school calendars with more and better learning time.

With Governor Christie’s call for expanded learning time and persistent winter weather storms closing schools across the U.S, the discussion of longer school days and years has continued to grow.  Yesterday, USA Today took a look at the renewed attention as schools deal with a difficult winter.   

This past week, in honor of the Winter Olympics, I finally got around to watching the movie “Cool Runnings” – the story of the unlikely Jamaican bobsled team that competed in the 1988 games in Calgary. I’m no expert, but I think I can safely say that the movie stayed true to the essence of what is undeniably a fun and inspiring story. What is interesting to me, though, is that, even though the movie was never a contender for an Oscar, it has become somewhat of a cultural icon and its subject has had real staying power.

Last week Bam! Radio hosted a discussion on our new Common Core report that suggests Common Core implementation works best with extra time and support for students.  Patrick Riccards, Darren Burris, Jen Rinehart, and NCTL’s Jennifer Davis weighed in on what the Common Core State Standards mean for student learning.

This week, NCTL hosted a webinar with the authors of Financing Expanded Learning Time Schools, as well as Elizabeth, NJ Superintendent Olga Hugelmeyer to go in-depth on both the costs and funding streams for expanded learning time. You can access the presentation here and listen to the full webinar here

In the last 50 years, there has been a boatload of research—that’s the technical term, by the way—confirming what most of us know intuitively: there is a definite connection between time and learning, with a higher quantity of the former generally leading to an increased amount of the latter.  (For a brief review of the research, see the paper I put together a couple of years ago.) In fact, this direct association was first articulated, at least in a published paper, by the educational psychologist, John Carroll.

While it can be difficult for schools to think about how to bring together the necessary funding to expand learning time, our recent report, Financing Expanded Learning Time Schools, released with The Wallace Foundation, outlines how five district expanded-time schools leverage different funding streams to redesign and expand learning time for their teachers and students.

What does expanded learning time look like?

As a new member of the team at the National Center on Time & Learning, I realize this is a weighted question. Now a month into working here, I have spent time visiting  a few high-performing expanded learning time schools in Massachusetts: Guilmette Elementary School and Wetherbee Middle School in Lawrence and the Martin Luther King, Jr. K-5 Elementary in Cambridge, and I have found that there can be a wide range of answers to this question. 

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