Time Matters Blog

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.

Reflecting on my Summer Internship at NCTL

Today’s blog post is written by our summer intern, Talia Mercado. She is going into her senior year at Hamilton College where she is studying Government and Hispanic Studies.

Growing up with a mother as a teacher taught me the importance of education at an early age. I grew up going into school with my mother and sitting in on the elementary school classes she taught. I was always amazed at how much my mother taught, as well as how much her students knew. I was excited when it was finally my turn to go to school, and I attended my mom’s duel immersion school from kindergarten to eighth grade in Cambridge, MA.

Growing up with a mother as a teacher also taught me at a young age the everyday difficulties teachers and administrators face every day. For as long as I can remember, one of the biggest challenges for my mother, as well as most of the other teachers in her school, has been the limited amount of time during the school day. Teachers need additional time to plan in order to meet the needs of all students.

This summer, working as an intern at NCTL I have been able to view school from a different angle. I have spent most of this summer researching legislation that could potentially lead to expanded learning time in all states throughout the country. When conducting this research it is evident that ELT has definitely impacted multiple state legislatures. This is especially true for Massachusetts. With the recent increase to the MA ELT budget more students in Massachusetts will be able to experience an expanded education.

Looking back, I am happy that I went to a bilingual school as a child. I do believe that had I not, my Spanish would not be as good as it is today. I also believe that I would not have had the wonderful social and cultural experiences that have molded me into the person I am today. However, I do believe that time was limited in my elementary school, and I felt it. There simply was not enough time to perfect my English writing and reading as well as learn Spanish even though we spent an equal amount of time in the classroom for both languages.

Bilingual schools like the one I attended as a child as well as other innovative schools are so important for our country, but in order for students at these schools to absorb the most possible, more time is necessary. Interning at NCTL has taught me that not only do non traditional schools need more time, but that all schools can benefit from the addition, especially schools serving to low income students. It is true that most schools around the United States including those in affluent areas suffer from low hours of instructional time, but students whose families can afford it will be able to make up for the difference in hours with extra activities and tutoring. Students from low-income families simply do not have the ability to access extra academic activities that money can buy.

 

My Experience As An NCTL Intern

Today’s blog post is written by our summer intern, Caroline Falcone. She is going into her senior year at Bates College where she is studying Politics, Spanish, and Education. 

Nearly everyone in my family works or used to work in education, so it’s only natural that I have an interest in the field as well. Throughout my experience I have worked in many schools in my college town of Lewiston, Maine, and have felt frustrated by some of what I see in those classrooms - run down facilities with insufficient resources, failed grades on standardized tests, and projects left unfinished as teachers work hard to keep up with curriculum requirements. I know that expanded learning time could help these struggling schools.

Lewiston has a large population of African immigrants, specifically Somali war refugees. Many of these students come to school knowing little English and are unaccustomed to their new culture. I taught SAT and college prep to high school students one semester and it was challenging. Despite the challenge, it was rewarding knowing I was providing a valuable academic counseling service that these students would not have otherwise received. The class was two days a week for three hours. One Kenyan immigrant always stood out to me because of her beautiful outfits. She wore colorful, sparkling hijabs in gorgeous patterns that she made all in her spare time after school. She was a model for her peers in that she valued creativity in fashion while adhering to the Muslim dress code.

A year and a half later, a picture of this girl popped up on my Instagram news feed posted by National Geographic. I read that NatGeo had been visiting Lewiston for World Refugee Day and spoke to my former student about her fashion aspirations. I also read that she would be attending college in the fall. She was the first in her family to graduate from high school. I suspect this would not have been possible without her tutoring, personal drive, and creative spirit.

How can we change our schools to provide high-quality education that fits everyone’s needs? How do we come together to provide students with outlets for their passions and prepare them for future success? The most pressing and potentially effective change that needs to be made is an increase in time for meaningful learning and instruction. More time well spent in school allows for more learning. With even more time in school, this budding fashion designer could have learned about the college process and studied for the SAT instead of having to attend an additional program outside of school. She could have fostered her passion for fashion with guidance from teachers and support from peers. With more time spent in meaningful ways comes increased opportunity to grow and learn. Children need more time in schools to become the successful and passionate individuals that we need in this world.

My experience as an intern at NCTL has helped me see more of these success stories of students, teachers, and schools that benefit from expanded learning time. I have become inspired by the progress that the movement is creating and want to continue to advocate for this crucial change. Children like my now college bound student and teachers like those in my family can only gain from having more and better learning time in schools.  

What We Can Learn About Expanding Learning Time from New Haven, CT

A recent story out of New Haven, CT has been making the rounds in the education reform world. The tale is of one school’s effort to expand learning time and how that attempt failed to meet expectations.  Here’s the story in brief, as reported by Melissa Bailey of the Hechinger Report:

Based on a landmark teachers contract that made work rules more flexible, New Haven in 2010 tapped one of its lowest-performing schools, Brennan-Rogers, to undergo a turnaround, where the principal replaced two-thirds of teachers and imposed a longer school day.

Principal Karen Lott extended students’ day by an hour and 25 minutes –– then scrapped the longer day one year later when it didn’t work out. The experiment had exhausted students and teachers without making progress towards its goal: closing the achievement gap between her largely poor and minority students and their suburban peers.

Those of us who are advocates of expanded-time for students in low-income communities might be disheartened hearing of this “failure”.  But let me take a minute to unpack the story to explain why this one school should not be considered any sort of bellwether for future efforts to implement high-quality expanded learning time.  The analysis breaks down into three basic points:

1.       Choice – Note the word “imposed” at the end of the first sentence.  This attempt to lengthen the day for students and teachers came without any discussion, any efforts to earn the support of those who are supposed to be better served by the lengthening of the day—namely, parents and students.  In fact, further down in the article, the reporter makes the point that “students, who did not have advanced notice of the changes, felt punished.” Expanding time is, ultimately, about re-designing not just the structure of a school’s educational program, but also about shifting the behaviors of both children and adults to be more conducive to learning. Improvements in educational outcomes will rarely be achieved when only structures are changed and not minds.

2.       Planning – In reading this story, it becomes clear that the school took the dramatic step of expanding the school day by 85 minutes without sufficiently planning for the many contingencies and complications that inevitably arise for undertaking such a reform (typically we recommend at least 6 months of planning). For example, while teachers were able to get paid more for their longer hours, the contracts of school support staff (e.g., secretaries and paraprofessionals) were not amended and so the school had to scramble to cover classrooms and other duties during the last portion of the day. Had the school planned sufficiently for the transition to a longer day and worked out all the contract issues for all school staff, such problems would likely not have arisen.  As it was, the lack of planning caused unacceptable levels of stress among the adults in the building.

3.       Duration – The principal decided in March of the first school year that student outcomes had not improved and, thus, the “experiment” in having more learning time had failed.  Anyone who has worked with schools undertaking substantial school reform will tell you that it takes at least three years before academic outcomes begin to show steady gains.  The reason for the delay, in large part, is that improved educational quality is not simply about having more minutes of learning time, but also about modifying instructional practices to take advantage of the greater quantity of lesson time.  Such modification cannot happen instantaneously; human beings are not machines. Rather, teachers and students need repeated and continuous opportunities to assimilate content and develop skills in different ways than they have in the past. And only after these novel experiences of learning build up will students begin to deepen their knowledge and skills in ways that can be measured by standard assessments.  The research, by the way, is clear that major school reform does not typically begin to show progress until into at least the third year.

Given these considerations, it is not surprising to me that the New Haven elementary school did not show major progress after only one year and that their implementation was not judged to be ‘high-quality’. In fact, it would have been surprising if without adequate buy-in, planning, and timeline, the effort had somehow succeeded.

Before we let the story end here, however, I would be remiss in not recognizing a main thrust of the article, which is that expanded time still has had a marked impact on the school. Granted the time is not for students, but the school has maintained a longer day for its teachers. As the article explains:

For the past three years, teachers have met for an hour each morning without kids. Some days, they work with colleagues teaching the same grade to plan field trips or interdisciplinary projects on topics like slavery. Other days, they learn how to use iPads and Apple TVs. Teachers also comb through student data, help each other plan lessons and analyze how those lessons went…. Though the day is shorter, instruction is more efficient, said sixth-grade teacher Tavares Bussey. “The kids are getting more out of it.”

As we detailed in our report Time for Teachers, having more time for teachers to collaborate, to plan, and to reflect is essential for improving instruction and, in turn, educational outcomes. Schools everywhere—especially those serving mostly kids from disadvantaged backgrounds—should take note of the experience of this New Haven elementary school. Indeed, the district of New Haven certainly has, rewriting its teacher contract for the whole district to require more time for teacher collaboration.  Getting teachers to work more effectively (and often) together is a key first step in strengthening schools.

Still, improving educational outcomes for students in low-income communities will ultimately reach a limit within the confines of a typical American school day and year. I hope that the New Haven school is able to find a way to take another try at expanding learning time for all its students—and this time with the proper planning and process. The bottom line, as I’ve written many times, is that expanding time for schools is no easy task. It takes inordinate amounts of foresight, coordination, and patience to reap a payoff. But seeing students who live in communities of concentrated poverty improve their life’s prospects because of the superior education they’ve received is, in my estimation, always worth that effort.

FY 2015 MA State Budget Update

Earlier this month, Governor Patrick signed the MA state's FY2015 $36.5 billion budget. As with every year, there are many competing priorities and we are grateful that the budget includes a $500,000 increase for the MA Expanded Learning Time Initiative, bringing the funding for the Initiative up to $14.6M. 

With this increased funding, three new schools will be joining the MA ELT Initiative! We are excited to welcome them into this effort, which is a national leader for thoughtfully planning and implementing an innovative, redesigned school day.

We appreciate the hard work of the members of the state House of Representatives and Senate as they continue to prioritize expanding learning time, especially for students in high-poverty schools. The increase in funding was due to the advocacy of many administrators, teachers, and parents who know the power of expanding learning time as well as the legislators who listened to your calls. We thank you all. 

Why I Believe in ELT

Today’s blog is written by summer intern, Jeanie Mai. She attended an ELT middle school, KIPP Academy in Lynn, and is now going into her first year at Salem State University majoring in athletic training.

Every child should be given an expanded learning time (ELT) education, but most don’t have that opportunity. Fortunately, I lived in an area where an ELT school had just opened up, and conveniently, in the grade I was going into. The ELT school was a charter school known as KIPP Academy in Lynn, MA (KAL). Classes started from seven in the morning and lasted until five in the evening, with each period lasting one hour. I was very hesitant to go at first because I didn’t want to spend another couple of hours doing homework on top of getting out late, but I soon learned all that time was well worth it and the best decision I’ve ever made. With more hours in the school day I was given more time to learn and now had the time to fully understand what was being taught to me.

In our expanded time schedule we had two periods for math, regular math in the morning, and a problem solving class in the afternoon that corresponds with the morning class. Our teachers came up with fun and creative methods to keep us engaged; I remember a fun class in seventh grade we learned about percentages and my teacher took the beat of “Step by Step” by “The New Kids on the Block” and changed the lyrics to how to get the percentage of any number, step by step. Two hours of math really helped me learn because if I didn’t understand something from the morning I could go over it in the afternoon. The additional time and fun methods like these helped a lot when I got to high school. I was placed in basic algebra, my freshman year, but using what I was taught, I won the “Excellence in Math” award for my class and got bumped up to Honors math my next three years.

With more time to learn there was also more time to play. KAL wasn’t just successful in the classroom because of the expanded day, but also on the court. I was captain of the girls’ basketball varsity team and we went undefeated in our league for all my three years on the team and won every tournament we were invited to. We had more time in our day to practice than the other schools we faced and it definitely helped us to be as successful as we were. The more time and effort you put into something, whether it’s for practice or studying, the better the results you see.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the ELT high school (KALC). It was definitely a hard transition going from an ELT middle school to a regular school day in high school. The difference became clear my senior year in pre-calc class. The math taught to me from freshman to junior year, I already learned from KIPP, but pre-calc was entirely new to me. I went from being a high honors student when I had two hours of learning math to a C average student having one 45 minute period of math in my senior year. My teacher would fly by an entire chapter in 30 minutes and I struggled for most of the year. I wish I had the opportunity to attend KALC because I would have benefitted more. I believe in ELT because I know the benefits of it first-hand and it helped me gain good habits that I carried into high school and probably for the rest of my life. 

Time Doesn’t Have to Mean Money

Today's post is written by Antonio Parés, a School Design/Redesign consultant, who has worked with Denver Public Schools, Get Smart Schools, and Generation Schools Network to open innovative models in Denver's school turnaround networks. He is a graduate of CU Boulder, a Teach for America Alumni, and a former teacher at IDEA Public Schools. You can follow him on Twitter @antonio_pares

The momentum behind expanded learning time to improve student achievement continues to grow. Learning time is a resource that education leaders across the country are eager to maximize for students from high-poverty communities.  Unfortunately, we often believe, and it’s often the case that more time involves a tradeoff, and in the education sector that tradeoff is money. Principals and district leaders assume that expanding the school day and school year will involve paying teachers more or hiring additional staff. I contend that shouldn’t be the expectation. Instead, as schools and school systems consider implementing expanded learning time they should view it as an opportunity to break out of historical and outdated school structures, rethink their personnel systems, and innovatively expand learning time for their students in a cost effective manner.

Rethinking the Basics of a School Schedule

Adding more learning time can be done in a cost neutral way, if we start to challenge some of our current assumptions about basic school structures. Schools must be willing to think outside of the box. For example:

  • -Why do staff days have to start at 8:00am or conclude at 4:00pm?
  • -Why must all of a school’s staff go on vacation at the same time?
  • -Why do schools continue to stick to a semester system?

Rethinking and shifting these basic components of a school day or school year can accomplish expanded learning time in a cost effective fashion. For instance, Englewood School District in Colorado is aiming to expand their students’ school day. One option is staggering when the day starts and ends for their teachers. By asking half of their staff to work 7:30am - 3:30pm and the other half to work 8:30am - 4:30pm, Englewood can add an hour to their students’ school day without requiring teachers to work more.

In New York, Brooklyn Generation Academy has extended their school year by staggering teacher vacations. By having grade-level teachers take their vacations at different times of the year the student calendar has grown to nearly 200 days, while teachers continue to work a 180-day year.

Back in Colorado, West Generation Academy in Denver has thrown out the traditional semester calendar and moved to a trimester system. West’s students take English and math all three trimesters, every morning, for 90 minutes a day. Their electives are on an A-B schedule, for 50 minutes a day, and often change with the trimester. By implementing this schedule, West Generation Academy’s students receive substantially more time in their core courses and have the opportunity to take more and different electives than most of their district peers.

These schools and school systems have one thing in common - they implemented more learning time for students in a way that costs little-to-nothing extra. They have proven that expanding learning isn’t just an exercise in adding more time, but instead an opportunity to break apart old structures, systems, and expectations and innovatively put them back together in a way that provides more learning time for students with little to no increase in their budgets.

Jennifer Davis Discusses Utica Expanded Learning Time

This morning, NCTL co-founder and president Jennifer Davis discussed the announcement of the Extended Learning Grant in Utica, NY on Utica’s WIBX radio.

Jennifer congratulated Utica for putting together a strong initial plan to receive the grant which has positioned the district for a thoughtful implementation of expanded learning time. Jennifer went on to cite the important impact that ELT has had on many schools across the nation, and how both high-performing and struggling students can benefit from an expanded school schedule.

 “I want to congratulate Utica and the state for really taking on this agenda. It’s a really an important one for our country….These kinds of reforms and resources are exactly what school districts and children need.”

Listen to her radio segment here. We look forward to supporting the districts in New York as they move forward through the process of planning for and implementing expanded learning time.

New Schools Join the MA ELT Initiative

We are pleased to welcome Guilmette Middle School in Lawrence and Boston's Young Achievers K-8 Pilot School and Dever Elementary School to the MA Expanded Learning Time Initiative. This year, the grant competition for the ELT Initiative was fierce with seven schools applying for limited funds. While we are very excited to welcome these schools into the expanded-time movement in the state, we know there are some very worthy schools that will not be able to move forward with their plans for expanded learning time and we hope to continue to support their efforts to expand opportunities for their students.

With the addition of these three schools, more than 11,500 students in 21 schools in 10 communities across the state will benefit from the opportunities of an expanded school day as part of the MA ELT Initiative. 

An Open Letter to Students Skeptical about Expanded Learning Time

Today's blog is written by our summer intern, Abby Cobb, who is heading into her junior year, majoring in Cognitive Science at Yale University.

Dear Skeptical Students,

As a current college student and recent high school graduate, I can assure you no student wants to spend more time in school. When you hear “expanded learning time,” I’m sure all you think about is sitting in front of the same teacher for an extra hour, hearing things explained in the same way they were explained the first time (If you didn’t understand vectors the first time, why does your teacher think you’ll understand it if he/she explains it the same way?). I can empathize with these feelings, because, prior to this summer, they would have been my exact thoughts if someone had told me my school was implementing ELT. But, thankfully, I’ve had the opportunity to intern with NCTL and change my misconceptions about ELT and reevaluate my mindset around education.

At the end of my spring semester, I couldn’t wait for summer and the start of my internship with NCTL, a welcome reprieve from lectures and midterms. When I showed up at the NCTL offices in Boston, there was a lot of talk about ELT and its benefits. As someone who had just finished finals and countless hours in the library, I myself was skeptical about the concept of increasing school time. I wondered why schools needed more time. Couldn’t they improve instruction without changing the time commitment for students and teachers?

After working with the NCTL staff and spending time in ELT schools around the state of Massachusetts, what I’ve realized is that quality instruction and student engagement depend on the added time that an expanded school day allows. With more time comes more personalized academic help, time for enrichment activities, and, in some cases, opportunities for social-emotional curriculum. This ensures that students aren’t spending more time in front of the same teacher, but are being engaged and challenged in many different ways. While “expanded learning time” often has a negative connotation for students, it doesn’t just mean more of the same teaching; it means more time to engage in all aspects of educational and extracurricular interests. In reality, a longer school day/year improves the overall culture of a school and makes the school day more enjoyable, despite having more time.

The opportunity to see the benefits of ELT first-hand also prompted me to start thinking about how we, as students, view school. Unfortunately, we are often waiting for school to end, rather than trying to make the best of the time we are spending in school. So, I would encourage you to adopt the same mindset that I’m going to take with me back to school, which is to stop looking at school time in a negative light, and to start looking it as a tool that can be leveraged to improve our time in school. Stop waiting for the end of the school day, stop waiting for Friday, stop waiting for summer, and start looking to make the most of the time we are spending in school.

Here’s to hoping I convinced you,

Abby Cobb

Ex-skeptical Student

P.S. If you are interested in learning more about how ELT can be utilized to improve the school day, check out NCTL’s publication Time Well Spent

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