Off the Clock: What More Time Can (and Can't) Do for School Turnarounds

Image of an empty classroom. Credit: iStock

If less time in the classroom is a cause of poor student performance, can adding more time be the cure? This strategy underlies a major effort to fix the nation's worst public schools. Billions of federal stimulus dollars are being spent to expand learning time on behalf of disadvantaged children. And extended learning time (ELT) is being proposed as a core strategy for school turnaround.

But the hard truth is that there is far more research showing the ill effects of unequal time than research showing that ELT policies can make up the difference. What does the research really say about the impact of ELT on student learning, and how is it being implemented in our nation's lowest-performing schools?

Off the Clock: What More Time Can (and Can't) Do for School Turnarounds takes a look at the facts—and the myths—about school calendars and schedules. Extended learning time is one of the key elements of the federal government's SIG program. More than 90 percent of the schools in the program have selected one of two options—"turnaround" and "transformation"—that mandate more time.

Education Sector reviewed data on how these schools are actually using "increased learning time" mandated by the federal government. The variations are wide—from adding minutes to the school day to providing after-school programs to shortening recess and lunch. Some approaches show clear potential, while others face considerable limits to implementation.

"New designs for extended time should be a part of the nation’s school improvement plans," Silva concludes. "But policymakers and school leaders must recognize that successful schools use time not just to extend hours and days but to creatively improve how and by whom instruction is delivered. In the end, the ELT movement is more likely to leave a legacy of school and student success if it becomes less about time and more about quality teaching and learning."

This report was funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Education Sector thanks the foundation for its support. The views expressed in the paper are those of the author alone.

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