Time Matters Blog

Event: Time for Teachers: Leveraging Expanded Time to Strengthen Instruction & Empower Teachers

Event hosted by            

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - 10:00 am - 11:30 am (EDT)
The Pew Charitable Trusts
901 E Street NW, 10th Floor
Washington, DC 20004-2008

Register for the Live Event and Webcast.

Follow the conversation on Twitter: @expanding_time #time4teachers

Teaching in America is undergoing a revolution. Together, historic changes — a potent blend of more challenging standards, increasing accountability, and shifting demographics in the teaching profession — intersect powerfully with the growing movement to redesign schools with expanded time across America. Expanded-time schools add hundreds of hours per year, providing essential additional time within the school day and year for teachers to learn new content, plan for and reflect on lessons, and hone instructional practices.

Please join the National Center on Time & Learning and Teach Plus for a discussion of the exemplary practices being implemented in a select group of schools across the U.S. to provide teachers the time and support they need to succeed.  The report release event, Time for Teachers:  Leveraging Expanded Time to Strengthen Instruction & Empower Teachers, will feature Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President and a panel of teachers and leaders, including Paul Toner, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, who will help us launch this important policy discussion. 

NCTL’s new report, Time for Teachers, was made possible through the leadership support of The Joyce Foundation. NCTL also gratefully acknowledges Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for supporting NCTL’s knowledge management work.


Roberto Rodriguez
Special Assistant to the President,
White House Domestic Policy Council



Scott Barton
The Preuss School UCSD


Celine Coggins
Chief Executive Officer,
Teach Plus


Jennifer Davis
Co-Founder & President,
National Center on Time & Learning


Claire Kaplan
Vice President, Strategy & Knowledge Management
National Center on Time & Learning


Paul F. Toner
Massachusetts Teachers Association



Hawaii’s Thoughtful Approach to Learning Time

It is rare at the National Center on Time & Learning that we are in the position of supporting a proposal for less learning time for students. However, after taking a moment to understand the implications of Hawaii’s HB 1675, a bill that scales back required school time for Hawaii’s students and which is moving through the legislature now, we do, indeed, find ourselves supporting the measure. As astute students of learning time may remember, a few years ago, Hawaii’s Education Committee Chairs moved an ambitious bill through the Legislature that increased the minimum learning time all Hawaiian students to 1,080 hours annually. They took this bold step because they knew that Hawaii students needed more learning time to academic support and enrichment classes in their school day—key components of a well-rounded, high-quality education.

Yet, sometimes, a broad policy on increasing learning time is not what is best. Aside from the budget implications—universally raising the minimum number of hours includes a steep price tag of $6.1 million per day—we are deeply concerned that such a broad-based approach will create severe implementation challenges. We have learned a lot over the years helping schools redesign and expand their school schedules, and one of the most important lessons is that when adding time to the schedule, it must be purposeful and thoughtful. Simply adding time to meet a mandate will likely mean educators have little incentive to generate deeper, strategic change. Instead, they tend to revert to tinkering: another worksheet in one class or ten more minutes of study hall. Meaningful instruction or learning will not take place if educators are not bought in and the added time is not structured in a way to make it matter.

That is not to say, though, that time does not matter. It does. It is important that schools have minimum annual hours and that all schools start from the same place. Then, if a particular school is struggling, administrators can understand what tools they have to help, including providing substantially more learning time. Perhaps a school community looks to expand time so that teachers have more time to plan and collaborate, teachers have more time to target interventions and students have more time for elective classes, or a school leader may look at instructional practices that have nothing to do with time. By setting a minimum calendar of 990 annual hours for secondary schools, Hawaii would be putting forth minimum requirements that are in line with–but not ahead of –several other states around the country.

So, in this case, it looks like the thoughtful approach towards assuring students in Hawaii are educated in schools that are optimizing their time with students is starting from a lower quantity, and then building up strategically from there. In this way, the legislature will help to make sure that those students who are most in need of more school time, might have the chance to gain that opportunity, rather than spreading the resource of time more broadly but with minimum effect.

State & Federal Policy Momentum

Over the last few years, policy advances at the federal, state, and local levels have accelerated efforts to ensure high-poverty students receive an education that prepares them for success in college, careers, and beyond.  This year leaders across several states have provided new or newly flexible funding to incentivize district and school leaders, particularly in high-poverty communities, to expand school schedules in order to close achievement and opportunity gaps.

The commitment to this issue is broad, coming from both Democrats and Republicans. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo's plans are moving forward for a $20 million competitive grant program for expanded learning time. Similarly, in Iowa, the Department of Education has proposed a $1 million competitive grant program targeting middle schools. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn proposed $5 million for expanded learning time in his FY 2015 budget, following the recommendation of his state superintendent of education, Dr. Christopher Koch.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called for longer school days in his 2014 State of the State address and has also requested $5 million in his budget to establish a competitive grant program where districts would offer proposals to expand the school day or year. Additionally, the Texas Education Agency named the members of their state's Expanded Learning Opportunities Commission last month, which was created by the Legislature in the last session and must issue a report on policy recommendations by the end of 2014.

While states across the U.S. are driving important reforms, support at the federal level remains very strong with the Obama Administration's latest budget demonstrating its continuing commitment to expanding learning time as a crucial school redesign and improvement strategy.  Of particular note, the Administration's new Race to the Top - Equity and Opportunity program features expanded learning time as one of the ways of ensuring that students get the high-quality, well-rounded education they need and deserve.

Over the years, NCTL has launched initiatives and released publications focused on creating a better school design to meet students' needs.  In May, we will be launching a new phase of work focused on giving teachers the time they need to succeed. Time for Teachers:  Leveraging Expanded Time to Strengthen Instruction and Empower Teachers will be released May 14th at an event in Washington, D.C. co-hosted by Teach Plus. This event will launch the expansion of our work at NCTL to support teachers with high-quality, school-embedded professional learning opportunities.  

Expanded Learning Time in President Obama’s FY15 Budget

The Administration’s FY 2015 budget reaffirms President Obama’s and Secretary Duncan's deep commitment to expanded learning time (ELT) as a key reform strategy to support students from high-poverty communities prepare for the future. The budget would support ELT schools throughout its K-12 programs, including ESEA’s existing School Improvement Grants (SIG) and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program. Furthermore, expanding learning time funding is also available in three new programs: Race to the Top – Equity and Opportunity, High School Redesign, and the new Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching (RESPECT) initiative.

The School Improvement Grant program, renamed School Turnaround Grants, was level-funded at $506 million. Grants are guaranteed for three years, but districts can receive an additional two years of funding if their schools are showing improvement. The lowest five percent of schools would still have to use one of the four existing SIG reform models – Transformation, Turnaround, Restart, or Closure. Both the Transformation and Turnaround models require schools to increase instructional time.

The president’s budget proposal would also level-fund the CCLC program at $1.149 billion, and it would build on the current ESEA Flexibility Waiver system that allows states to include ELT schools as an option for districts to choose along with after school, before school, and summer learning programs.  Currently, 25 states have this flexibility for ELT and the president’s proposal would provide the option to all states and districts. Funds could also be used to provide teachers the time they need to collaborate, plan, and engage in professional development as part of an expanded learning time program.

The president’s FY 2015 budget introduced three new programs that would also allow schools and districts to increase learning time and provide time for teacher collaboration and professional development: Race to the Top – Equity and Opportunity, High School Redesign, and RESPECT.  The Race to the Top – Equity and Opportunity program is a competitive grant program that would be funded at $300 million with the goal of improving academic achievement in the nation’s highest poverty schools. Grantees would be required to implement data systems that provide information on school finances, teacher and principal effectiveness, and academic achievement, as well as attract and retain effective teachers and leaders in high-need schools. Grantees would also use funds for other activities that can increase educational opportunity and reduce achievement gaps, such as expanded learning time.

The High School Redesign program is a competitive grants program funded at $150 million designed to prepare students for college and careers though career-related experiences, personalized learning and project-based learning. High schools use the grants to redesign their school in innovative ways, including strategically using learning time in more meaningful ways, such as technology-based teaching, a redesigned school day or calendar, or competency-based progressions.

Finally, the Recognizing Education Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching (RESPECT) program, a one-time $5 billion investment, would provide competitive grants to states and districts to address educators’ needs.These needs might include improving teacher and principal preparation, providing career ladders and other opportunities for educators to take on leadership roles, and creating conditions in schools that support effective teaching, including great school leadership and time for collaboration. RESPECT funds could go towards helping schools redesign the school day, week, and year to allow for increased planning and collaboration time for educators, a key element of high-quality expanded learning time schools.


The “Seeing is Believing” Tour of MA Expanded-Time Schools

Last week, I visited a couple of successful expanded learning time schools through NCTL’s “Seeing Is Believing” tour in Massachusetts. The Huntington Elementary School in Brockton, MA was memorable for me, because of their tight knit leadership group and their teacher buy-in. Their school recognized the urgent need to act in order to create necessary positive change.

Their story is pretty amazing, creating their vision to implement expanded learning time as a turnaround strategy in 2009 when the state designated them a level 3 school on its 5 level accountability system. Having received the state’s MA ELT grant in the spring of 2012, Huntington officially moved forward with an expanded school day in the fall of that year. The Huntington Elementary school recognized their strength in creating a strong ELT program in so short a time due to teacher buy in. They have redesigned their school culture around their ELT plan, with a strong track toward new measurable growth goals that are met with urgency and rigor. With the option of not having to stay during the additional hours that have lengthened the afternoon, 70% of classroom teachers choose to stay and work.  You can tell that the teachers, administrators, and parents are all fully behind this new initiative and students enjoy it as well.

They are a great example of a community who has really embodied their vision and held their beliefs at the top of their mind every day; which is, “every child, every day soaring to success.”  The teachers have bought into this new school identity and enjoy it. One teacher said: “It still isn’t enough time with the expanded time.”

The success of  The Huntington School comes from the staff rallying together to create a sense of ownership over student achievement, internalizing common values, acknowledging the urgency of student achievement, and creating a common goal to focus on the most prevalent need affecting all students.   

View the photos from the “Seeing is Believing” Tour on our Facebook page.

The Time Gap

At NCTL, we make the case that students from disadvantaged backgrounds need more time in school to make up for their general lack of time in productive learning environments outside of school as compared to their more affluent peers.  Not long ago, TASC (the familiar name of The After-School Corporation) actually quantified this differential and found that the gap totaled a stunning 6,000 hours by the time students reached sixth grade.

This fact alone highlights the necessity of our core mission to expand school time for children from low-income communities, but there is also the flip side of our work. That is, not only do they need more time to make up for lost learning time outside of school hours, but the educators in those schools need to be sure that such time is used productively and with a continual, laser-like focus on optimizing learning time.

New research from a group in Los Angeles illuminates how time spent in school also has a socioeconomic class bias. The researchers found through surveys of teachers in 193 California schools that students in high schools serving a predominantly low-income population actually spent less time learning within the same allotted schedules than middle-class high school students. The greater losses in higher-poverty schools stem from, among other things, a greater number of disruptions during class, more days spent testing, and loss of class time due to unqualified substitute teachers. One of the researchers on the study, Nicole Mirra, a postdoctoral student at UCLA, puts the matter succinctly: "This is not narrowly an issue of teachers and students at an individual level. This is about high-poverty schools lacking the resources to respond to broader social conditions."  She’s right: providing these schools more time and tools to better use that time is more essential than ever.

New Opportunity for STEM Education in Expanded-Time Schools

The National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL) is pleased to announce the release of a Request for Proposals to fund a planning grant to initiate or strengthen STEM education in expanded-time schools. Grants will be awarded to schools and their community-based partners to foster innovation and excellence in STEM education by integrating Informal Science and Next Generation Science standards, concepts, practices and core ideas in expanded-time schools, such that they become exemplars for other schools to follow. Grantees will participate in a series of technical assistance sessions and site visits-conducted by NCTL and its partner, TASC (The After-School Corporation) - aimed at helping sites ensure high quality of program design and implementation.
The grant will cover expenses associated with planning, including travel and staff time for both school and partner personnel. Programs are expected to be in place by no later than January 2015.  
Those interested in applying must submit a Letter of Intent (co-signed by the school and partner) to NCTL by April 30 and full proposals are due by May 23, 2014. 
Click to download the RFP.
The planning grants and technical assistance are generously funded through a grant from the Noyce Foundation.

The Complexity of Education

The other day I heard of a fascinating piece of research featured on NPR’s Morning Edition. The show’s social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam reported on a study of Air Force Academy cadets that gives us a little more insight into the phenomenon known as “peer effects,” or how being surrounded by peers of a certain type subtly influences one’s own behavior. Admittedly, the research falls a bit outside of NCTL’s “wheelhouse”, but it, nonetheless, reminded me why I do the work I do.

To summarize the study briefly, the Air Force found that in heterogeneously mixed squadrons (groups with low-, middle-, and high-performing students), the lowest students were more likely to stay enrolled and perform better over time than low-performing students who were in squadrons without a cohort of high-performing students. It seemed, then, that those higher-performing students were having a positive peer effect on the larger group. Armed with this information, the Air Force began to deliberately form squadrons with just high- and low-performing students. After two years, however, the Academy found that lower-performing students actually were doing worse. The peer-effect wasn’t working, researchers realized, because the two types of students tended to fraternize only with similar students, so the low-performing students actually had fairly limited interaction with their higher-performing peers.  The middle-level students had been the “glue” that had catalyzed the peer effect and, without them, the effort to lift those on the lower rungs failed.

So, what does a study about Air Force cadets have to do with NCTL? It is not the specifics of the study that resonate with me, or even the broader issue of peer effects. Rather, this study demonstrates vividly that education is really, really difficult work.  Just when you think you’ve figured out a way to help raise student performance, you encounter another complication that upends that solution.

And this is why at NCTL we are such strong proponents of innovation in schools. There is no one school that has completely “cracked the code” on how to augment student learning, so educators should always be on the lookout for fresh approaches. Having more of the vital resource of time enhances one’s capacity to improve, of course, but success in education really comes down to having the humility to know that the only way to get the teaching and learning process “right” is to appreciate the reality that there is no right answer for every school and for every student.  Instead, the best one can hope for is to always strive to do better.

Arts Advocacy Day- Expanding Learning Time for Arts

Today, we co-sponsor Arts Advocacy Day with Americans for the Arts with a vision to make sure every child in the United States has access to a hiqh-quality arts education. Grassroots advocates from across the country are meeting in Washington, DC with their members of Congress in support of issues like arts education policy, the charitable tax deduction, and funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Americans for the Arts hopes to advance arts education in these specific ways:

  • Make the case so that arts education is valued in our country as an important part of all students’ lives.
  • Inspire new leaders so that more students have access to arts education through the efforts of local, state, and national leaders.
  • Increase visibility so that resources and support are directed to the stakeholders in the ecosystem that can affect change for arts education.

What's At Stake In 2014? Between tax reform, budget battles, and education reauthorization, support for arts and arts education is facing many challenges on Capitol Hill this year. As Congress and the administration grapple with ever-changing policy proposals, it is imperative that arts advocates come to Washington, DC to make sure the arts to make their voices heard!

What can you do? Read our report for more information Advancing Arts Education through an Expanded School Day and join the conversation on twitter today #AAD14 

The Case for Teacher Leadership

One of the things that has always fascinated me about the 1960s in America (and in some other Western European countries) is not simply that these years represent an era of upheaval, of a ready resistance to tradition and an aggressive questioning of those in authority, but that those at the forefront of this change were remarkably self-aware of the tectonic shifts in culture that were taking place. This dual perspective—being part of major shifts in social or institutional structures and being sufficiently able to rise above the day-to-day to contextualize these shifts in broader terms—is actually quite rare. More often, those engaged in the daily grind of life cannot lift up their heads high enough to appreciate how this grind represents not more of the same, but something fundamentally different from what came before.

This interplay between “living in the here and now” and “making history” has occupied my mind lately as I’ve been working with NCTL colleagues on our latest study. This report, which will be released in May, delves into the ways teachers use time to advance their own skills and learning so that they can strengthen instruction and, in turn, enable students to achieve to high expectations. The research is very much aimed at practitioners with the objective of informing and inspiring fellow educators to replicate these effective practices.

And, yet, this study of what teachers are doing in expanded-time schools around the country is not just about the best of professional learning, but also shines a spotlight on the fundamental changes now shaping the teaching profession—when the daily challenges of managing a classroom of 25 or 30 children are intertwined with much broader trends. With the advent of Common Core standards and with the various efforts to evaluate teachers in more sophisticated ways, expectations for teaching are not the same now as they were even just a few years ago. Teachers are no longer supposed to be merely the purveyors of knowledge, but guides for students’ own explorations. The value of teacher is expressed in how they lead, both in the classroom and out.

A recent speech from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan picks up on this theme that teachers are not just individual agents in their own schools, but also can be part of a wider movement. They can meet “smaller” goals of educating particular children and grander ones at once.

Teaching will change, too, as the nation's understanding deepens about the critically important factors that may be just as important to student success as reading and math skills — factors like grit, perseverance, resilience, and confidence.

The role of teachers in leading through this change isn't a nicety — it's a necessity. Teachers must shape what teaching will become.

Indeed, that is one of the themes that kept emerging as we went around the country visiting schools and speaking with teachers: the recognition that the future of teaching is being crafted very deliberately by the teachers themselves. For sure, this “I’m part of history” perspective is a minority one among those I met. Still, many more individuals than I expected do have a strong sense that their labors—and their striving to become even better—are part of a larger mission to change the role and the expectations of teachers. I’m fairly confident that as these teachers grow in both their capacity as educators and as change agents, our schools and students will be better for it.