In the fall of 2006, Clarence R. Edwards Middle School ("the Edwards" as it is known locally within Boston Public Schools) became one of the first schools in the state of Massachusetts to implement the Expanded Learning Time (ELT) Initiative. The reasons why were simple: we were not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and we wanted to make significant academic gains with our students. As it turned out, making our school day longer was one of the best things we could have done to help reform our school model and improve student outcomes. Our statewide exam scores, student enrollment, daily student attendance rate, community and family engagement, and time for team teaching/collaboration all improved as a result of ELT.
An Optimized School Day
In essence, the ELT schedule includes three extra hours of school time four days a week, and half-days on Fridays for students. Within a single school day, our pupils are enrolled in four core classes (English language arts, math, science, and social studies), one specialty class, one academic intervention course, and one extra-curricular enrichment course. Fridays, after students are dismissed, we have whole-staff professional development when teachers collaborate with their colleagues in common planning time meetings.
Gathering Stakeholders and Data
Before implementing ELT, the Edwards team formed focus groups consisting of administrators, teachers, staff, and other community partners. The groups met regularly to research the model and to discuss the impact of the proposed changes on daily operations, curriculum, instruction, and enrichment practices. Key school leaders and teachers gathered data, input, and reflections from school-based teams, and used this information to design the content for the grant that ultimately led to program funding from the Massachusetts Department of Education.
Looking back, one of the key lessons learned was the importance of sharing decision-making across three of our major school governing bodies. Together these groups provided the insight, consultation, voting processes, and other elements that allowed us to finalize both the expectations for and details of the ELT plan. These groups were:
- School Site Council
- Members: principal, teachers, union reps, parents
- Focus Areas: major school policy, family engagement
- Instructional Leadership Team
- Members: principal, director of instruction, director of ELT, department chair teacher leaders, outside providers
- Focus Areas: teaching and learning, curriculum, assessment, professional development
- Team Leadership Team
- Members: principal, assistant principal, director of instruction, director of ELT, head of school climate, student support coordinator, team leader teacher leaders, outside providers
- Focus Areas: operations, climate, student support
It was essential to get not only staff buy-in, but also the support and endorsement of the Boston Teachers Union (BTU). Early on, school leaders collaborated with the BTU and negotiated the details of teacher compensation for ELT work. The pay agreement established that BTU teachers would continue to work their regular contractual day, and self-select to continue work during ELT hours. Compensation for these hours was based on a negotiated contractual hourly rate. Options for ELT teaching included a one-hour academic intervention course four days a week and/or a two-hour elective course (an extracurricular or academic-based elective) two days a week. Union representatives also believed in the correlation between extra time in school and improved student achievement, and their support for the plan truly helped strengthen staff buy-in, motivating teachers to participate. In our seven years of ELT, over 90 percent of our BTU staff has chosen to work during the expanded hours.
Student Participation to Boost Engagement
Students were also consulted in the original design of ELT. They were surveyed on which electives they would want offered during the last two hours of their school day. Core Boston Public Schools teachers, multiple outside providers, and community partners were recruited to teach our electives courses. These include swimming, tennis, football, basketball, track, baseball, cheerleading, step dancing, karate, break-dancing, ballet, Zumba, art, anime, concert band, rock band, musical theater, cooking, and many others.
Student Data for Targeted Interventions
Another key element driving our instructional design for the academic intervention hour was student performance data. Due to our low statewide exam scores in math prior to 2006, we decided to focus our first-year efforts on math support for all students. As our math scores went up in the ensuing years, we expanded our academic intervention efforts to include ELA and science. We also use our extra academic hours to provide targeted one-on-one and small group intervention for our students with special needs who are significantly behind grade levels in reading, and we offer additional hours of ESL instruction to our beginning ELL students.
There have been many factors leading to the success of ELT at the Edwards. Not least were the essential planning efforts undertaken by school leaders, teachers, and staff before implementing ELT. Today the Edwards is recognized as one of the highest-performing middle schools within the Boston Public Schools, and we have shared our school schedule as a national model for ELT. We are so proud of our many turnaround efforts, from those made prior to implementation of ELT to all those made since. Due to all the hard work and collaborative energy of teachers, administration, school-based leadership teams, community partners, students, and families, the Edwards has reached and continues to meet our goals for student achievement and for providing middle school students in Boston with quality education in academics and enrichment.