Profiles in Transformation: Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time Initiative/National Center for Time and Learning
MASSACHUSETTS EXPANDED LEARNING TIME INITIATIVE/NATIONAL CENTER FOR TIME AND LEARNING
Expanded learning time has gained prominence as a school reform strategy, particularly at the federal level. The Race to the Top and School Improvement Grant programs, for example, prioritize expanded learning time. States vary greatly in their support for flexible use of time, but some states have led the way in encouraging experimentation and innovation, even when facing severe funding cuts. The National Center for Time and Learning (NCTL) supports states, districts, and schools in “redesigning and expanding school time to improve opportunities and outcomes for high-poverty students.”
NCTL was founded in 2007 as a national expansion of Mass 2020, a Massachusetts-based expanded learning time program founded in 2000. Both NCTL and Mass 2020 provide policy, research, and technical support for districts to significantly expand their school calendars. A subgroup of Mass 2020 is the Expanded Learning Time Initiative, which provides support to schools that receive expanded learning time grants from their states.
Schools that choose to follow the NCTL model (or are required to under the condition of the Massachusetts expanded learning time grants) add at least 300 hours of schooling per year, which over the course of three school years means an extra year of instruction. To develop the program content, teams of teachers, administrators, union representatives, parents, and outside partners spend a year examining data and redesigning their school day and year. The expanded time is carefully balanced between core academics, enrichment activities, and time for teachers to plan and learn collaboratively. Schools develop ongoing partnerships with community organizations, higher education institutions, and businesses to provide learning opportunities for students.
In 2005, Kuss Middle School in Fall River, Massachusetts, was labeled “chronically underperforming.” The school was targeted for intervention under federal law. The Massachusetts Department of Education appointed a new principal, who decided to apply for an expanded learning time grant as part of the transformation program. Since the school was awarded the grant in 2006 and implemented the NCTL model, it has dramatically improved outcomes. It has since been identified by national publications such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and EdWeek as an exemplar of how expanded learning time can be effectively used in school turnaround models.
Expanded Learning Time Principles
The National Center for Time and Learning promotes expanded learning as a whole-school reform. Expanded time must not simply be added on to the traditional school day, but instead become a vehicle for changing school culture and making continuous improvement. To most effectively use extra time, several strategies are used, including:
- Incorporating extra time throughout the day rather than at the end.
- Creating more time for core subjects, extra academics tailored to students, and enrichment activities that include community partners.
- Ensuring teacher and parent trust and buy-in.
- Providing additional time for teacher collaboration and planning.
- Incorporating extra time throughout the day rather than at the end.
Expanded learning time is different than an after-school program. When expanded learning time was first implemented at Kuss Middle School, it was added on to the end of the day. The principal soon realized that having the extra time at the end of the day was not effective because it felt like an extra burden rather than an extension of the regular day. The next year, she integrated the extra time throughout the day and teachers and students had much more positive reactions to it.
Expanded learning time can also be used to create balance within a school by allowing more time for core academic subjects, additional academics tailored to the needs of individual students, and enrichment classes. Kuss Middle School has all three types of classes. Students spend ninety minutes every day on math, science, and English/language arts. Struggling students take additional classes in core subjects to keep them on track, while students who have demonstrated mastery of the core material take elective classes in core subject areas. Every student also takes at least one enrichment class, such as knitting or martial arts, which is designed by teachers and community partners based on student interest.
Before implementing an expanded day, it is important to get teacher and parent buy-in. At Kuss Middle School, the principal held meetings in the community to talk to parents about how their children would be affected by the implementation of expanded learning time. She also talked to the teachers about how they wanted to use the additional time and gave teachers who did not want to participate in an expanded day the opportunity to leave the school. As part of the school’s participation in the federal school improvement program, the principal was granted the ability to hire and fire teachers, so she had the ability to remove teachers who did not fit the new model of expanded learning and hire teachers who were a better fit.
It is not just the students who benefit from strategic implementation of expanded learning time. Teachers can also benefit by receiving extra pay and extra time for collaboration and planning. Time for teacher planning is at the center of Kuss Middle School’s expanded learning initiative. Teachers meet weekly by cluster and by grade/subject and as a full staff in meetings focused on the School Improvement Plan. Expanded time allows teachers to plan collaboratively, observe colleagues, and use data to monitor student progress. The NCTL maintains that additional collaborative time gives teachers common strategies that all adults in the school can use with students. The resulting common language and instructional strategies create important teacher bonds that provide consistency for students, strengthening the school culture. At Kuss Middle School, teachers’ salaries were increased by 25 percent to compensate them for the 300 extra hours they were spending in the classroom.
Finally, as with many other transformation strategies, data is key for effective implementation of expanded learning time. Schools that receive an expanded learning time grant from Mass 2020 must create a “performance agreement” that sets measurable outcomes and defines specific targets that hold the school accountable to the state. Outcome measures include student engagement, teacher development, and academics. Schools risk losing their funding if they do not meet the conditions of their performance agreement. At Kuss Middle School, students and teachers create contracts based on individual student goals and create school data displays so everyone is aware of how the school is performing.
In 2005, the Massachusetts State Legislature authorized funding for the Expanded Learning Time (ELT) Initiative Grant program through Mass 2020; grants of $1,300 per student are given to schools to expand the school day, and schools apply through the state department of education. Once grants are approved, the school receives technical support from Mass 2020 in the implementation of their extended learning time.
In other states, Federal School Improvement Grant program funding is available for expanded day programs when schools are targeted for intervention under the “transformation” model.
Massachusetts ELT schools are making steady progress that outpaces comparison schools. The percentage of Title I ELT schools rated as “high-growth” on the MCAS (the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, the statewide standards-based assessment program) is about double that of non-ELT Title I schools in both English language arts and math. Teachers in ELT schools are more satisfied with the amount of time available for instruction and for collaborative planning than teachers in comparison schools. Since 2005, the proportion of Kuss Middle School students meeting proficiency targets has grown by 34 percentage points in math and 16 in English language arts. The school has high rates of teacher satisfaction and is growing partnerships with the Fall River community. The school also has significantly increased its enrollment and has a waiting list of students and parents who want to be part of the Kuss Middle School culture of high achievement.
A school cannot implement expanded learning time without the assistance of the district leadership through policies that make expanded learning time possible. At Kuss Middle School, the district superintendent was extremely supportive of the principal and encouraged her to apply for the Mass2020 grant.
District support can also help to sustain change even after a charismatic leader has left. A lot of the changes at Kuss Middle School were made possible by the leadership of the principal. With district support, she is able to implement sustainability measures so teachers can continue to effectively implement the expanded learning time model after she leaves.
Implementing an extended day requires some flexibility in most districts’ current rules. Teachers must be able to work longer hours, and the school must have the ability to release teachers who may not want to participate in the program.
Some logistical challenges that come with expanded learning can be met by changes in district policies. Specifically, one common challenge for schools with expanded time is transportation and food services. Dismissal time must be adjusted and food served at different times than in traditional schools.
- Mass 2020 Website
- “Mass 2020: Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time Initiative Update 2010-2011,” by Massachusetts 2020. 2011.
- “Managing and Structuring Collaborative Planning Time at Kuss Middle School,” by Massachusetts 2020.
- “Time Well Spent: Eight Powerful Practices of Successful, Expanded-Time Schools,” by National Center on Time and Learning. 2011.
- “Kuss Middle School: Expanding Time to Accelerate Learning,” by Massachusetts 2020. 2011.
- Mass 2020 Website