Expanded Learning Time Succeeds with Research-Supported Practices
Using expanded learning time for extra-curricular enrichment, personalized instruction, and professional development promotes academic achievement and a positive school culture at Edwards Middle School in Boston.
Clarence R. Edwards Middle School was once one of the lowest-performing schools in Boston Public Schools and in danger of being closed. With a grant of $1,300 per student from the Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time Initiative, Edwards has added three hours to the school day Monday through Thursday (about 300 hours per year) to increase learning time in all core subjects (math, English language arts, science, and social studies). Since 2006, when the Expanded Learning Time initiative was implemented, through 2012, the percentage of students achieving proficiency or higher has grown 150 percent in math, 73 percent in reading, and 533 percent in science. In addition, the average rate of suspensions has decreased 37 percent and the school has successfully narrowed the achievement gap for low-income students. In the 2012-13 school year, 82 percent of the students at Edwards came from economically disadvantaged homes, compared to 37 percent across Massachusetts. Edwards's remarkable success with the Expanded Learning Time initiative is attributed to three key practices:
- Enrichment Programs: Fine arts, sports, physical education, and career apprenticeships with community organizations
- Academic Leagues: Additional instruction targeting areas where students struggle most
- Continuous Professional Learning: Team building and collaborative analysis of student data to tailor instruction to students' needs
Expanded Learning Time
In a review of 15 studies on expanded learning time (ELT) in schools, 14 of the studies found evidence suggesting a small positive effect of extended-school time on improved academic achievement, particularly for students at risk of failing (Patall, Cooper, and Allen, 2010). The researchers concluded that extending academic time in K-12 schools may be an effective way to support student learning, as long as the extra time is spent in ways that are productive, organized, and well-planned. The number of schools with ELT in the United States has grown 53 percent from 2009, when there were 655. As of 2012, more than 1,000 schools have expanded their school day and/or year, representing about 1 percent of all public schools nationwide and serving approximately 520,000 students (Edwards, 2012).
At Edwards, the additional time is used for enrichment programs that promote student engagement, "Academic Leagues" that support student growth in areas where they are struggling most, and job-embedded professional learning. According to a 2011 report, ELT teachers report having time to cover material in greater depth, discuss and reflect on lessons, and connect concepts in different classes. In Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time Initiative schools, 85 percent of teachers believe they have sufficient time with their students to reach learning goals, compared to only 39 percent of teachers statewide (Farbman, 2012).
Faculty, administrators, and students at Edwards generally agree that enrichment programs play the most important role in creating a positive and engaging school culture. Enrichment programs motivate students to engage in learning not only because the programs are fun but also because they cultivate and celebrate the broad array of talents that students possess beyond core academics, thereby helping to promote success for all students. A review of 46 quantitative studies also shows that student participation in school-based, structured, extracurricular activities (such as sports, music, drama, and clubs) is correlated with higher grades and test scores, reduced dropout rates, higher self-esteem, and reduced rates of risky, antisocial, and delinquent behavior such as criminal activity (Feldman and Matjasko, 2005).
All students at Edwards participate in four 90-minute classes per week in an enrichment program of their choice. In seventh and eighth grades, students select from a wide variety of electives such as swimming, Latin dance, environmental science, and fashion design. In sixth grade, students participate in Citizen Schools, a college-readiness and skill-building apprenticeship program. Citizen Schools supports long-term social, career, and civic success by offering hands-on learning opportunities with local organizations, businesses, and individuals (Arcaira, Vile, and Reisner, 2010; Cabral, 2006). The program works with professionals and local organizations to support skills such as communication, collaboration, data analysis, advanced literacy, global awareness, effective reasoning, problem solving, innovation, and technology. For example, Edwards students joined with Mario Umana Middle School Academy students for a ten-week zookeeping apprenticeship with the nearby Stone Zoo. For 90 minutes a week, students worked alongside a professional zookeeper and had the opportunity to help design and create items that would enhance the zoo experience for animals and guests.
A seven-year evaluation of the Citizen Schools program found that Citizen Schools participants had higher attendance rates, had greater academic gains in course grades and state tests, and were more likely to graduate from high school in four years, as compared to nonparticipating students in the district who were statistically matched for test scores, demographics, and other factors (Arcaira et al., 2010). Citizen Schools participants also reported experiencing more positive relationships with adults and peers and feeling more confident in their public speaking skills as a result of the program (Arcaira et al., 2010).
Students at Edwards participate in Academic Leagues in math, English language arts, or science for one hour, four days per week. Academic Leagues consist of small groups of ten to 15 students with teachers who are certified and receive a stipend. Most of the Academic Leagues at Edwards support English-language fluency and math by working on specific strands that students didn't do well on. Up to five times per year, teachers benchmark students' understanding of core concepts in math, ELA, social studies, and science using a formative-assessment system. After each benchmark test, the data is analyzed by department teams to identify key areas where students need additional support. One of the responsibilities of the department chairs is to highlight traditional areas of weakness in students' understanding of the curricula. Teachers then collaborate on ways to adapt instruction in both classes and the academic leagues to remedy the areas where students are struggling. The Achievement Network (ANet) system had been used by the school to benchmark math and ELA progress since 2006, at a price of approximately $30,000 per year; however, due to budget cuts, the school will no longer be able to use the system in 2013 and will move to the formative-assessment system used by the district: Assessment Technology Incorporated.
According to Edwards staff, additional instruction to meet weaknesses in students' understanding is a primary reason why the percentage of Edwards students achieving proficiency has shown strong growth compared to state averages, increasing from 13 percent in 2006 to 32 percent in 2012 in math, and from 31 percent in 2006 to 54 percent in 2012 in ELA. A study of more than 500 schools across seven states also shows that the effective use of benchmark assessments, paired with evidence-based changes in teaching practices that address the needs and problems identified by the data, substantively improve math and positively affect reading achievement (Carlson, Borman, and Robinson, 2011; Slavin, Cheung, Holmes, Madden, and Chamberlain, 2012).
Continuous Professional Learning
Edwards also uses ELT to provide continuous professional-learning opportunities that promote teaching quality and a collaborative culture. Students are dismissed at 11:45 a.m. on Fridays, after which faculty, along with representatives from key partnering organizations, meet from 11:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. to work on professional development primarily focused on analyzing student data. Once a month, the sessions are devoted to teaching demonstrations, in which Edwards teachers model lessons for their colleagues and receive feedback. In addition to the Friday professional-learning activities, grade-level teams meet two to three times per week during the time that students are in enrichment classes to discuss student support issues. During grade-level meetings, teachers analyze student data, critically reflect upon teaching practices, and problem solve in order to identify the instructional practices most likely to support students' progress, such as hands-on activities in science and collaborative learning in math and social studies. For example, in 2010 Edwards teachers (as part of the Boston Teachers Union) received an American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Innovation Fund Grant to develop 21st-century technology-integrated lessons tied to common core standards for math and social studies. These lessons were shown in a nationwide evaluation study to support student learning.
Professional learning at Edwards is job-embedded and teacher-directed, and has been an important contributor to Edwards's continued success. Several studies have shown that teachers are better able to improve their teaching practices and meet student needs when schools provide professional-learning opportunities that are ongoing, coherent, and integrated into teachers' everyday work. Professional-learning opportunities are most effective when they support teacher planning and student inquiry and achievement, and provide teachers with control over their learning experiences through collaboration in study groups and teacher-led team activities (Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, and Yoon, 2001; Vescio, Ross, and Adams, 2008; Penuel, Fishman, Yamaguchi, and Gallagher, 2007).
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Slavin, R.E., Cheung, A., Holmes, G., Madden, N.A., and Chamberlain, A. (2012). Effects of a Data-Driven District Reform Model on State Assessment Outcomes [abstract]. American Educational Research Journal. Prepublished November 15, 2012.
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