Time Matters Blog

Heard In the Classes of Expanded-Time Schools

Last week we had teachers and administrators from Tennessee join us on a “Seeing is Believing” multi-day tour of Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time (ELT) schools.  It was a powerful experience to share similarities, troubleshoot differences, bounce ideas off of other teachers and find suggestions for improvement within the school walls. We came away renewed with more work to be done to help implement ELT in other districts, and Tennessee teachers hopefully were renewed with a drive to thoughtfully implement some new ideas.

Here are some of the great things we heard from these schools.

The Huntington School in Brockton, MA:

·         “There’s a real sense of collaboration – it’s a real shift from ‘my’ students to ‘our’ students.” –Teacher

·         “All of our Brockton afterschool activities have been cut; thankfully at the Huntington we can still offer fun enrichment because of our expanded learning time.” – June Saba-Mcguire, Principal

·         “The initial implementation of Playworks happened because of the ELT grant.” – June Saba, Principal

The Wetherbee School in Lawrence, MA:

·         “I don't think we had any direction—everyone was kind of doing their own thing and not collaborating. It [ELT at all K-8 schools at the direction of the state receiver] has probably been the best thing to ever happen to us at the district.” –Colleen Lennon, Principal
 

Student panel question: What advice do you have for the teachers here today as they bring expanded time into their own schools?

Students answer: “Make the end of the day more fun.” (These students loved their enrichment block at the end of the day.)
 

 Reflections from a panel of teachers in Lawrence, MA:

·         “Having the time to plan and collaborate, and to do things by yourself that aren’t rushed, is very helpful.” –Bob, Teacher at Arlington Middle School

·         “We’re able to just spend more time together and really dig into what we’re doing rather than just have a short planning time where we’re alone in our classroom or meeting with one teacher.” –Math Coach

·         “We are seeing student motivation and willingness to participate in the enrichments translating to the classroom.”  - Teacher

·         “Teachers feel that they can have deeper conversations about students’ individual needs.” -Teacher

·         “When this [ELT] came in I was reinvigorated—like I was going to be able to teach what the kids needed to be taught.” –Math Coach
 

Whelan School, Revere, MA:

·         “We have 100% buy-in in this staff that ELT is important and that it’s what’s best for the kids, and that’s what makes this work.” –Jamie Flynn, Principal

McKinley School, Revere, MA:

·         “It’s all about what’s best for the kids, not what’s easiest for the teachers.” –Ed Moccia, Principal

If you are looking for more powerful practices in expanded-time schools, check out Time Well Spent.

Casimir Pulaski Elementary School Wins National Award

Congratulations to Casimir Pulaski Elementary School in Meriden, CT for receiving top honors in the HealthierUS School Challenge!  Casimir Pulaski Elementary School is the only school in Connecticut to receive a HUSSC Gold of Distinction award, and one of the first of two in the country to receive the award under the new HUSSC criteria. Less than one-half percent of all schools nationwide have this distinction.

We are so proud of the Casimir Pulaski School, an expanded-time school, part of our TIME Collaborative cohort, who put their students’ health and well-being as a priority. They won by improving the quality of foods offered in school, teaching students about nutrition, and providing more opportunities for physical activity.

Congratulations to the 2014 Public School Broad Prize Winners

Congratulations to Gwinnett County Public Schools and Orange County Schools of Orlando (FL) who were named co-winners of the Broad Prize, splitting the winnings of $1 million dollars to support college scholarships for their high school seniors. The prize rewards districts for improving achievement among disadvantaged students. Criteria include state test scores, graduation rates, performance compared with similar districts in the state, preparation of students for college, and the closing of the achievement gaps between ethnic groups and low-and-high income students.

It’s impressive that Gwinnet County has won the award for a second year (previously a winner in 2010), and similarly impressive that Orange County Schools have seen huge amounts of growth to get this well-deserved win.  It’s a great example of how communities can both achieve success through different education tactics in order to best fit the needs of their community.  Barbara Jenkins, Superintendent of the Orange County School District, who is in her second year in that district, is a supporter of expanded learning time, saying in an interview,  “I believe extended learning time for all students, but especially schools with higher levels of poverty will receive increased attention at the national level.”

Both districts won out of a pool of 75 districts because of their academic achievements specifically with low-income students. Jurors on the selection committee found that Gwinnett County, is "consistently one of the top performers in Georgia."  Meanwhile, the selection committee noted that Orange County has "galvanized the community around raising student achievement -- quickly and dramatically." Former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a member of the selection jury, said, “We were impressed with Gwinnett County’s steady, sustainable gains and with Orange County’s urgency and commitment to improve student achievement quickly. In the end, we decided that both finalists deserved to win the 2014 Broad Prize.” 

We agree with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who said when he presented the award that the real winners are the children. Congrats!  Click here for full details about the Broad Foundation prize and watch an inspiring video on the finalists.

The Opportunity for Impact

Just last week, a good friend of NCTL, Eric Schwarz, the co-founder and CEO of Citizen Schools, published, The Opportunity Equation, a book about his long experiences providing incredible learning experiences to school children in Boston and around the country. What makes this book so remarkable in my view is that Eric masterfully weaves together his own personal story of growing up together with the much broader story of educational opportunity in America. In particular, he describes his work as an adult trying to bring the learning-rich environment of his youth to young people in American cities who lack the same opportunities that had paved his own road to adulthood. The result of his efforts has been the highly-successful Citizen Schools, which connects schools, students from low-income communities, and professionals from a broad array of fields to hands-on learning in beautiful and lasting partnerships.

One of the most poignant aspects of Eric’s (and Citizen Schools’) story is how it dovetails so perfectly with that of the expanded-time schools movement. On the surface, Citizen Schools started as a “traditional” after-school program in that, structurally, it operated similarly to other after-school programs: after the scheduled school day ended, dependent upon students to volunteer to be there, and with less connection with students’ formal school education than it may have liked. And, yet, its particular educational model was anything but conventional. Bringing in lawyers, architects, scientists and other professionals into schools to become mentors to middle-school students was nothing short of pioneering.

This “outside the box” thinking pushed the envelope even more when, in 2006, Citizen Schools partnered with Clarence Edwards Middle School in Boston, one of the first schools in Massachusetts to convert to a longer school day through the state’s Expanded Learning Time Initiative. Through this new model, Citizen Schools transformed itself from an after-school program into an indispensible educational partner, as it became far more integrated into the learning life of the school. Citizen Schools showed in a profound way that expanding school time is definitely not about doing more of the same, but rather about opening up new opportunities for learning that students otherwise would not have had. Simultaneously, Citizen Schools staff at the Edwards worked hard to connect with the teachers there to make the educational experiences for students as seamless as possible. This was not about “tacking on” extra time to the school day. Citizen Schools was part of the integrated whole school re-design.

I must admit to being a little sad to note that, with this book, Eric is actually marking his own personal transition.  He is no longer working full-time at Citizen Schools and is moving on to new challenges. But, as his book powerfully conveys, his passion for expanding opportunity has quite simply translated into better lives for countless young people and, in turn, for improving the future prospects of our whole nation.  For that, Eric, we are grateful and thank you for your commitment, your entrepreneurial spirit, and your wisdom. We look forward to hearing (and then reading!) about your life’s next chapter.

The Lessons of More Math Time in Miami

A few weeks ago, a graduate student at Stanford Graduate School of Education, Eric Taylor, published a study of a program in Miami that had expanded time in mathematics for a select group of sixth graders. (The extra time came in the form of a required second math class). Following in a long line of research that indicates that more time spent learning yields a higher degree of learning, Mr. Taylor’s research also found a large positive effect of this extra time devoted to math. Specifically, math achievement grew among students with this extra class by 0.16–0.18 standard deviations faster than peers with only one math class.

But this is not the piece of the research that has gotten the most attention. Rather, it is the second half of his evaluation, which demonstrated that these students began to lose ground in their math proficiency once they went on to seventh and eighth grades and lost their extra daily math class. Within the more conventional school schedule, the group of students essentially reverted back to their level of performance before they had access to the additional math time. The results of this experiment have left some to conclude that expanding time is, thus, a questionable public policy because its effects are short-lived. 

In all honesty, I find this reaction somewhat puzzling (and even a little frustrating) on two levels. First, as a matter of pure logic, I think this research strongly bolsters the case for more time, rather than undermines it, since it clearly shows that having more time in math can accelerate learning. The loss in learning gains came only when that resource was taken away.

Consider an analogous situation from the world of medicine. If a doctor had a sick patient and found that a particular drug helped to heal her, and then stopped administering that drug, only to find that the patient regressed, would the response of the doctor be to conclude that the drug shouldn’t have been given in the first place if its absence would only lead to the patient’s decline?  Of course not. The response would be to continue the drug. Likewise, this study of the Miami students offers pretty convincing proof that more learning time achieves its objectives of promoting more learning. Regression with its removal is further proof of its positive effects.

Yet, it is the second aspect of this skepticism that, to me, is a bit more troubling. To suggest that a group of sixth graders that demonstrated a particular proficiency in math at one moment means their proficiency is fixed at a certain baseline as they progress to more complex mathematical concepts seems, to me, too simplistic. Human beings are not computers. We are not simply processors of inputs. Rather, learning is a complicated, multifaceted process that involves the gradual and even erratic accrual of knowledge and skills. Of course, knowledge builds on itself, but this does not mean that if we achieve a certain level of knowledge at one particular time—which, of course, is what results on a test show—that this level remains constant. Instead, our minds are much more fluid. Our specific proficiencies fluctuate, as we integrate new understandings, novel perspectives, and previously unknown facts into our knowledge base.

Therefore, when these students moved to higher levels of math, but had less time to process, to internalize the more challenging topics to which they were being exposed, it is not surprising that their relative level of learning declined. If anything, they probably needed more time as they progressed up the ladder of mathematical complexity, not less.

By the way, it is worth noting that the author of the study notes in his conclusion that one of his concerns about giving extra time for math is that it takes away from time spent in other subjects. In an environment that is expecting students to be proficient in multiple areas, such a concern is entirely legitimate. And this is one of the many reasons why we at NCTL advocate for more school time overall – so that schools will not have to make these difficult choices trying to prioritize one subject over another. With a substantially longer day and year, schools are able to devote sufficient time to all core academic subjects and, in the process, find that their students reap the accruing benefits of more learning opportunities.

Five Expanded Learning Time Schools Receive Grant to Enhance STEM Education

As schools across the country struggle to find time to provide their students with engaging hands-on lessons in science, five schools and their science partners in Colorado, Connecticut, and Massachusetts have received grants from the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL) and the Noyce Foundation to introduce a new STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education program to their students. This support comes at a crucial time as a number of states across the country adopt the Next Generation Science standards. These grants will support and enhance STEM education in expanded learning time schools and prepare students for success in high school and college as well as careers in science, technology and engineering.
 
“We are committed to supporting partnerships between schools and community-based science organizations to enhance the quality of STEM programming,” said Ron Ottinger, executive director of the Noyce Foundation. “We are excited about the potential of these partnerships to build students’ interest in science and hope they become models for how schools can strengthen science education through expanded learning time.”
 
Schools, along with their science partners, will use the grant money to plan for the implementation of the new STEM programming during the fall of 2014. Implementation of the new programming will begin in January 2015. In addition to the small grant funding, schools will receive technical assistance support throughout the year from the National Center on Time & Learning that aims to deepen the content of the STEM education and strengthen the partnerships between schools and external science educational institutions, like science museums.
 
“Hands-on science education is critically important to both engaging our students in learning as well as preparing them for the future,” said Jennifer Davis, co-founder and president of the National Center on Time & Learning. “The partnerships these expanded-time schools and science organizations develop as they plan for and put in place new science programming will demonstrate what’s possible – both when schools have more time in the school day for science education and when they have the time to thoughtfully plan hands-on science learning. These schools will be models for schools across the country that are looking to enrich their students’ learning with interactive and engaging STEM education.”
 
The grant recipients are:
  • -The A.C. Whelan Elementary School and Blue Heron STEM in Revere, MA will augment its science enrichment with new programming that will incorporate the Boston Museum of Science’s hands-on learning curriculum, Engineering is Elementary.
  • -The John Barry School and the Meriden YMCA in Meriden, CT will expand its engineering enrichment programming in the 2014-15 school year from serving grades kindergarten and three to serving grades kindergarten through five.
  • -The Centennial Elementary School and the DaVinci Club in Denver, CO will provide science enrichment programming to grades kindergarten through five that couples fine arts with the Next Generation Science standards and NASA programs.
  • -The Escuela Bilingüe Pioneer School in Lafayette, CO and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science plans to integrate the Museum’s Distance Learning Program, which incorporates collections from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science into virtual science lessons. New programming will also engage students in hands-on experiments designed by the Pioneer School and special units offered by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
  • -The Pennington Elementary School in Jefferson County, CO and the Children’s Museum of Denver plan to co-create and launch an experiential science program, Mini Hands of Pennington Take on Science, for kindergarten through third grade students. This new program is focused around problem-solving, the development of 21st century skills, and an increased understanding

Longer School Days Boosts Attendance & Achievement in Meriden, CT

Kathleen Megan of the Hartford Courant wrote a great article last week on the Casimir Pulaski Elementary School in Meriden, CT, one of our TIME Collaborative schools beginning their third year with an expanded school schedule.  Since they’ve added 100 minutes to their school day they have seen a boost in attendance rates to the high 90 percentiles, student achievement scores in math and reading have increased, and the school is full of motivated, happy, students.

"The kids are incredibly excited to come to school, more than I've ever seen in my life," said Dave Wheeler, who has taught at Pulaski since it opened in 1972 and says the longer days have also been a "booster" for him late in his career. 

"The school day now features some of the hands-on enrichment that we know students love," Meriden Superintendent Mark Benigni said, "things that quite honestly had been stripped from schools across the nation" to make time for improving test scores…We are putting back some of the fun learning activities we know engage students and make school fun." He also went on to say, "We didn't launch this solely to improve standardized test scores. We did it because we thought students would enjoy and benefit from it."

With fun enrichment classes added back such as robotics, woodworking, scrapbooking, guitar lessons, Zumba and more, students look forward to going to school.  Emily Anastasio, a fourth-grader at Pulaski said she likes the expanded day because "you get to do a lot of fun things," from exercising to "technology labs" to scrapbooking and making a pencil holder. "School is fun as it is, but adding this makes it more fun."

We are proud of the achievement of Casimir Pulaski and are excited to continue to support them as they continue to implement high-quality and sustainable expanded learning time. Read the whole article here

Careful Planning for Later School Start Times and Expanded-Time Can Improve Students’ Sleep, Health, and Academic Performance

At NCTL, we spend a lot of time thinking about alternative school schedules and helping schools and districts plan new schedules that meet their students’ learning needs. As students across the country are returning to school this week, a new twist on school scheduling is very much in the news. On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a call for middle and high schools to start their days at 8:30 a.m. or later – significantly later than is the norm in most districts – to combat sleep deprivation for teenagers.

The research underlying AAP’s recommendation is compelling. When school starts later, a myriad of studies shows a wide range of health, academic, and behavioral gains for students. Students have better attendance; they are less sleepy in class; fewer students suffer from depression and more students experience greater motivation; and test scores and course grades increase across a wide range of subjects. Perhaps most bracing, a 2011 research study by Robert Vorona and Mariana Szklo-Coxe examining adjacent, demographically similar cities with high school start times that differed by 75-80 minutes found that 16-to-18-year-old drivers averaged a 33 percent higher crash rate in the city with the earlier start time over the two years studied. School-age drivers were also far more dangerous relative to adult drivers in the city with earlier high school start times than in the neighboring city with better-rested kids (though teenage drivers have higher crash rates than adults across the board, so…please, buckle up no matter what city you are in).

The in-school evidence is extensive, whether you take a snapshot that compares schools or grades within a district that have different start times or you follow the results over time to examine the results at a school before and after it makes a change to its start time. Of particular note, researchers found that by some academic measures, the lowest-performing students got the most out of later start times, improving test scores by twice as much as average students from a one hour delay in start time.

The change AAP is recommending would be far reaching. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that of the more than 18,000 public high schools – traditional district and charter – only 14.4 percent of the schools currently have schedules aligned with the recommendation, starting at 8:30 a.m. or later; in contrast, 42.5 percent start before 8 a.m.  Taken together, the average start time is 7:59 a.m.  

It does appear that a small but growing number of districts are coming to grips with the mounting evidence against early start times for teenagers and are considering changes. Anecdotally, it is clear that making changes to longstanding schedules is a complicated problem. Schools and districts have to deal with many issues when considering later start times for middle and high school, including teacher work schedules, coordination with elementary school schedules, the impact on students’ ability to work or provide childcare for their younger siblings after school, and parent reactions – some even give up when rather than solve administrative issues that bear no relation to the quality of education, like rearranging bus schedules.  

What’s clear is that with something as complicated as school schedules, significant and careful planning is required to make sure that the implications of changes are well thought out and that all time is used well. We are very familiar with the difficulties – and rewards – of overhauling school schedules. Our TIME Collaborative schools and districts go through a year-long planning process that includes a heavy focus on scheduling details. It’s the kind of thoughtful process that results in not just more learning time, but better organized and distributed learning time.  School leaders can use this planning process to consider students’ health and sleep needs too and make later start times a part of a comprehensive redesign that provides more and better learning time for all students.

More school time does not mean less sleep. In fact, expanding time strategically can mean more sleep for teens, as many schools have already proven. The NCES data shows that charter high schools are far more likely to than traditional high schools to comply with the 8:30 a.m. or later start time recommendation, with 23 percent of charters and only 13.9 percent of district schools meeting the standard. Charter schools are also far less likely to fall into either of the extremely early start time categories that NCES tracks. This is particularly significant because charter high schools are far MORE likely to have longer days than traditional district schools – 11 times more likely based on a comparison of the NCES data to our comprehensive database of expanded-time schools. So, many students in charter high schools are already getting the benefit of both more sleep and longer learning days. As more and more district schools redesign their schedules to add learning time to benefit their students, they will have an excellent opportunity to push back their start times too.

NCTL recommends that all schools and districts take AAP’s research and recommendations seriously and examine their start times as part of a comprehensive planning process that puts students’ needs first and provides them with the quantity, quality, and distribution of learning time that they need. Starting school later but going longer is a powerful formula for increasing students’ learning, health, and safety.















More Learning Time is Key Factor to Raising Achievement

There is plenty of evidence demonstrating that more time in school can help students learn a broader set of skills and subjects. If you want the hard facts, check out our ELT research section. Not only does more learning time play a pivotal role in enabling a well-rounded education,  we know that expanding learning time can lead to accelerated student achievement.  At NCTL the role that time plays in providing students a strong academic, enriched education is what drives our work, but we are also aware that learning time is one factor combined with other elements that leads to a high-quality learning environment.  In order to achieve that, we must focus on how we integrate more learning time in a way that raises educational quality and optimizes learning.

  • -When our team works with a school redesign team, they focus their work on the following key turnaround principles, that in concert with time, can drive school success forward:  Incentivize a comprehensive school redesign through a thoughtful and strategic planning process
  • -Build strong teacher leadership and collaboration
  • -Use  of data for goal-setting
  • -Enable teachers to target interventions and acceleration for individual students  
  • -Develop a strong school culture with engaged students

More time used well in a combination with a larger school redesign strategy that supports effective teachers and leaders, accelerates student achievement  and promotes school culture can be the secret sauce to improving our struggling schools.  Have more questions on how this could look in your school? Contact Joe McKown for how we can help your district and/or school plan for and implement a redesigned and expanded school schedule. 

Teachers and the Common Core

An intriguing poll by Education Next was released this week that shows declining support for the Common Core. While a majority still support the math and literacy standards now in place in 43 states, the size of that majority has definitely shrunk from a year ago (65 percent support in 2013 vs. 53 percent support in 2014).  Interestingly, the decline in support seems largely a case of the Common Core as “a tainted brand,” to use the term of the survey authors. How do they reach this conclusion? Well, respondents were randomly divided into two groups, with one group asked about their support for “Common Core, which are standards for reading and math that are the same across the states” and the other asked that same question, starting with the word “standards.” Among the first group support was 68 percent, among the second support dropped 15 points to 53 percent.

But what fascinates (and worries) me most about this survey is that teacher support for Common Core standards has plummeted. In 2013, over three quarters of teachers (76 percent) supported them. A year later the level of support is less than half at 46 percent.  A thirty point drop in 12 months!  What are we to make of this fall off?

I’m sure there are many reasons, not the least of which is that now that teachers have begun the really hard work of dissecting the standards and transposing them to their daily lessons, they have a deeper appreciation for the challenge of, in many cases, transforming their teaching. At first, they were largely eager for change. Now that change is upon them, the enormity of what this really means is hitting. And who among us doesn’t have some anxiety over large-scale change in our lives?

Yet, I do wonder if there is another force at play here. Not so much the realization of the challenge of shifting instruction per se, but rather resistance to or discomfort with requiring students to achieve to higher expectations within the same basic school structure in which they have always operated. The problem, as I wrote many years ago in Education Week, is one of mismatched systems.

With the advent of high education standards, modern students are expected to know and do so much more than previous generations, yet, stunningly, they are required to achieve these objectives in the same allotted time. We would never expect a long-distance runner to complete a 10-kilometer race in the same time he or she runs a 5-kilometer one, but today’s students have essentially been challenged to do just that.

And here’s a piece of evidence to back up this admittedly speculative conclusion. I recently had the opportunity to do some analysis of responses to the Massachusetts Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning survey (MassTELLS) conducted in 2014. I took the responses and grouped them into two categories: responses from teachers in expanded-time schools and those from teachers in the much larger group of schools with traditional schedules. I found a substantial gap on the degree to which respondents agreed with the following statement: “Teachers have sufficient instructional time to meet the needs of all students.” Among teachers in traditional schools, 55 percent agreed, but in expanded-time schools that figure jumped to 77 percent. Apparently, having more time in class has the real effect of helping teachers feel like they can educate all their students successfully.

So, is educator skepticism of the Common Core growing because of possible problems with the standards themselves or with the fact that these higher standards do not easily fit within the conventional educational structure? Honestly, I don’t know, but it seems to me that before we go assuming that the standards are being “unfair” to students, we must take a hard look at what else about the education system might be responsible for the challenges posed by the Common Core. And surely, the lack of adequate learning time to reach these rigorous standards has to be high on the list.

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