To combat the loss of these programs, many schools are turning to an Expanded Learning Time (ELT) model. Alternatively called Extended Learning Time, the ELT model extends the day to allow time for increased reading and math studies in the regular part of the day while allowing for other subjects to be available in the extended part of the day. As more schools implement the ELT model, researchers are able to gather more data to aid in determining the most effective models. We have evaluated two ELT programs in Hawai’i and drawn conclusions similar to studies across the country:
- The amount of time is not as important as to how the time is used. Offering “more of the same” does not lead to increased test scores. In fact, teachers reported that often students would become frustrated at having an English lesson three times a day and struggling in each one of them.
- Although the initial goal is often increasing academic scores, we have found that teachers, administrators, parents, and students place a higher value on the “well-rounded education” students receive. For example, students at one Hawai’i elementary school have daily physical education on top of recess; they participate in after-school gardening, orchestra, and robotics classes; and certificated teachers teach classes in art, Hawaiian culture, and performing arts. Parents are excited because many of the programs the school offers would not be available on the island without the expanded learning program. Teachers benefit from the programs because, while their students are in the specialist classes, they can meet as a grade-level team for professional collaboration.
The ELT model focuses on three areas for reform:
- Increasing instruction in core academic subjects (reading and mathematics in elementary school and science, foreign language, and social studies in high school)
- Instruction in enrichment activities
- Teacher professional development through collaboration
The National Center on Time and Learning produced a report that summarizes Eight Powerful Practices of Successful, Expanded-Time Schools. Among the practices are: individualizing time for students, providing a well-rounded education, preparing students for college and a career, using time to strengthen instruction, and using student data.
One obstacle many schools have to overcome is the high cost of an expanded day. While there are grants available from various organizations, this is often not a sustainable approach. Schools that have successfully maintained an expanded day often use community partnerships and flexible teacher schedules to provide expanded opportunities. As increased accountability leads to an increased focus on reading and math, schools that want to offer other subjects, enrichments, and other opportunities will have to be creative with their use of time.
It is clear that offering an extended day benefits both students and teachers. The challenge is finding a model that is effective in meeting student and staff needs while remaining sustainable without significant additional funding. For schools interested in finding out more, there are a number of successful programs throughout the country. Boston Public Schools has successfully partnered with Mass 2020 for over a decade, the National Center on Time and Learning has several case studies, and New York City partners with The After-School Corporation to provide after school opportunities. Schools and school districts will have to determine whether any of these models can fit their needs.