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Expanded Learning Time to Narrow the Achievement Gap

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Published Online: August 9, 2011 Published in Print: August 10, 2011, as Expanding Learning Time to Narrow the Achievement Gap

COMMENTARY

Expanding Learning Time to Narrow the Achievement Gap By Eric Schwarz and Fred Frelow

Even as California, Hawaii, and other budget-strapped states consider cutting weeks out of the school year, some enterprising schools and districts are dramatically expanding the learning day for students as a strategy to improve results and spark innovation. Twenty-two of these schools from 11 diverse districts gathered in Boston in July at the inaugural Expanded Learning Time summit to build a community of ELT practitioners and share best practices. We believe lessons from the summit can help i nform the current national debate on extended learning, addressing questions about how to use ELT as a school turnaround strategy, how to pay for ELT, how to staff ELT without burning out teachers, and how to make sure ELT drives whole-school change instead of simply adding more of the same.

Participants in the summit described three core arguments for expanded learning time. First, they said, ELT offers more time for academic practice— practice —a no-shortcuts strategy for improving academic performance. Second, Second, it offers the opportunity to provide a more wellwell rounded education, with opportunities for adding arts and sports, college exploration, and project-based apprenticeships taught by professionals. Third, we heard from a number of participants, including Massachusetts Secretary of Education S. Paul Reville and author Frederick M. Hess, that ELT can serve as an R&D lab for new learning and teaching models that can lead to what Reville called “a new delivery model for education.” 

The summit was organized by Citizen Schools, an expanded-learning partner for high-need schools. A key feature of Citizen Schools’ ELT model highlighted at the summit is a we lltrained “second shift” of young educators and volunteers able to support teachers in a cost effective way. A Microsoft engineer described how he volunteered with Citizen Schools as part of a robotics “apprenticeship” and led a team of 6th graders through throug h the robot-design process, teaching engineering, math, and science in a fun and engaging way. Teachers

described how afternoon apprenticeships motivated ELT students in their morning classes because it gave them a chance to see the relevance of the core curriculum.

A ‘Second Shift’ of Educators.  Using

this second shift of educators to hel p expand the

learning day is a compelling way to address two common concerns about elt: teacher burnout and the cost of lengthening the school day.

"Although alternative staffing structures can reduce teacher burnout and be costeffective, some districts question how they can afford extended-day initiatives in the current budget climate. But it can be done."

Partnering with Citizen Schools and its full-time, recent college graduate AmeriCorps members and volunteer “citizen teachers” is one strategy for mobilizing a second shift. Another strategy is the one that Rocketship Education, the California charter school network, employs. The network has delivered excellent results with a blended-learning model in which master teachers lead instruction for six hours of the day, and college-age tutors and online learning sessions provide an additional two hours of instruction. A related approach was piloted this year in Houston through the Apollo 20 Project, in which more than 200 tutors worked in 20 schools to provide each student with small-group math instruction, extending the school day by one hour.

Although alternative staffing structures can reduce teacher burnout and be cost-effective strategies for increasing learning time, some districts question how they can afford even the most cost-effective extended-day initiatives in the current budget climate. But it can be done.

At Rocketship, school designers increased class sizes modestly for the core teachers in order to pay for the tutors and computer labs that make up the second shift. Generation Schools in Brooklyn staggered vacation time and added teaching aides, lengthening the year from 180 to 200 days without any additional costs. Apollo 20 paid for its pil ot first year with grant money and district discretionary funds.

In the case of Citizen Schools, district partners seek public grant funding to pay for ELT and use creative redesigns to make it sustainable. At the summit, one principal explained how she cut back administrative positions in order to pay for extending the day. Others offered how ELT boosted enrollment and provided their schools with associated per-pupil revenue

school more engaging, and also incubate innovative ideas that can lead to new education delivery models that help more children reach high college and career-ready standards.

Eric Schwarz is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Citizen Schools, a national nonprofit group that partners with middle schools to expand the learning day for low-income students. Fred Frelow, a former teacher and school district administrator, works for the Ford Foundation’s Educational Opportunity and Scholarship Unit. He oversees the foundation’s

work on expanded learning time. Vol. 30, Issue 37, Pages 24-25

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