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Expanded Learning Opportunities in the News

By Erik Peterson

Yesterday the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL) held a press conference in Washington, D.C., to announce that about 40 public schools in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee will significantly expand and redesign their school calendars starting in 2013 in an effort to help close the opportunity gap.

The schools are part of a collaborative effort in these five states to develop high-quality and sustainable expanded-time schools. The states will use a mix of federal and state funding to cover the cost of adding 300 hours of instruction and enrichment to the school year, and will receive technical assistance from NCTL and capacity-building grants from the Ford Foundation, which has committed $3 million a year over the next three years in support of the state efforts. The 11 districts with schools now planning to expand their day and/or year are:
  • Colorado: Denver, Boulder Valley, Jefferson County, Adams 50
  • Connecticut: East Hartford, Meriden, New London
  • Massachusetts: Fall River, Lawrence
  • New York: Rochester
  • Tennessee: Achievement School District (Memphis) and Metro Nashville

According to the Ford Foundation’s press release, community organizations, teachers unions and local businesses will play a key role in the collaborative effort, helping the schools to rethink their schedules and find creative ways to cost-effectively add learning time. Additionally, the school planning teams are encouraged to develop an expanded-time schedule that provides a rigorous, well-rounded curriculum for all students; offers individualized help for students who are struggling; uses data and technology to inform and improve instruction; improves collaboration among teachers; provides enrichment opportunities in the arts, music and other areas critical to development; and promotes a culture of high achievement. 

The Ford Foundation’s support for “more and better” expanded learning is a welcome complement to our ongoing work to ensure that all children have access to quality expanded learning opportunities. The initiative’s focus on hands-on, experiential learning; community based organizations as partners; and individualized learning is heartening to see and draws heavily from the lessons learned by the afterschool community.  With an established evidence base and impressive track record of inspiring student learning, helping working families and keeping young people safe; quality afterschool and summer learning programs serve as an excellent model for new expanded learning initiatives that add time to the school day or school year.

Expanded learning time (ELT)—adding time to the school day, week or year—is a relatively new approach to expanding learning opportunities.  Like quality afterschool, before-school and summer learning programs, there are essential principles of these programs that increase the likelihood of success.  At a minimum, expanded learning time programs should go beyond simply adding additional time to the school day and incorporate successful afterschool practices: engaging students in their own education by providing hands-on, experiential learning opportunities through community partnerships that build on—but do not replicate—learning that happens during the school day.  The Afterschool Alliance created a publication to define and outline the eight principles of afterschool best practices key to developing successful expanded learning programs.