Friday, August 5, 2011

Does Expanding Instructional Hours Improve School Achievement?

Extended learning time has been a relevant and controversial issue in education reform for the past several decades. Numerous reports such as this research study published by the National Center for Time and Learning, suggest that a students’ level of achievement is strongly associated with the amount of time they are engaged in learning. In addition, research has shown that extended learning time is particularly impactful for at-risk youth. A new report by the Education Commissions of the States (ECS) provides policymakers with guidelines to consider when developing policy relating to instructional time:

• Allotted time must vary with the needs of the student: Policymakers must consider that different populations need different amounts of time to achieve proficiency and that this variation must be factored into the education system.
• Highlight what works: Understanding how current expanded-time schools have leveraged the power of time—and done so in cost-effective ways—can help lead others to try, as well.
• Incentivize innovation: Policymakers can grant schools and educators flexibility to innovate, all while holding them accountable for demonstrating that their students are able to achieve at high levels or are improving significantly.

In the report, several states are highlighted for establishing policies, based on best practice, that support increased hours in school and that follow the suggested guidelines outlined above. In Massachusetts, school-learning time is extended through a competitive grant program called
The Expanded Learning Time Initiative, allocating money to school systems that add 300 hours to the year (extra 1 hour, 40 minutes per day). The Washington legislature increased instructional time for grades 7-12 from 1000 hours to the new minimum of1080 hours while also increasing the hours in kindergarten from 450 to at least 1000 hours. Moreover, in 2010 Maryland passed a bill that directs the state board to explore innovative scheduling models in low-performing and at-risk schools, including extended-year, year-round school, or other models that do not allow for prolonged lapses in instructional time.

While there is strong support for extending learning time, some have found that this effort alone is not enough to make significant reforms. According to an
Education Sector report, extending instructional hours does not necessarily equate to higher levels of achievement and is not worth the associated political and financial costs. Moreover, the report states that changing the school schedule affects not only students and teachers, but parents, employers, and a wide range of industries that are dependent on the traditional school calendar. The report states that most calculations suggest that a 10 percent increase in time would require a 6 to 7 percent increase in cost. Furthermore, the report states that extending school time will be most effective if it is also accompanied by other quality educational reforms and emphasizes an increase in instructional hours specifically, not just the extension of time spent in school.

Education reform remains an important focus for policymakers in the United States; as a way to best prepare our children for life and work and as a means for remaining competitive internationally.

Given the breadth of research, policymakers have a number of tools to use in considering if extending school time is an appropriate part of education reform for their constituency; evaluating the needs of the student population and the feasibility of implementation according to each community’s political and fiscal circumstances.

For more information on school reform strategies to
improve K-3 academic success, high school completion, and new strategies for increasing college completion (coming soon), visit

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