Our guest blogger is Isabel Owen, policy analyst for education policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
This week, six of Chicago’s public schools extended their school day by 90 minutes — a significant step forward for a district with one of the shortest school days in the nation. President Obama’s plan to grant education waivers to states that submit comprehensive reform plans, announced last week, would wisely encourage similar efforts to expand learning time across the country.
The president’s education waivers plan has received a lot of attention for its accountability provisions, but a critical waiver option on expanded learning time is being overlooked in all the hoopla. Expanded learning time is a valuable tool for improving student achievement, as demonstrated by schools that have implemented it. U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke of the importance of instructional time today at the Center for American Progress:
The fact that Chicago has – out of 50 of our largest school districts – the shortest school day is a disgrace. If we don’t think about the assets and resources of time, we are perpetuating the problems of poverty…Quality time is going to make a difference in student’s lives.
States granted a waiver will be allowed to use funding previously limited to activities during nonschool hours — such as before and after school — to expand learning time. As a condition of receiving a waiver, states must also improve their low-performing schools by adhering to “turnaround principles,” which include expanded learning time.
Some federal guidance is needed, though, to give states a better idea of how to use that extra time wisely. Critics are right to point out that more time spent doing the same things will not change a school. Schools that have seen the greatest improvements in student achievement by adding time to the schedule did so by redesigning the way time is used.
Waivers are undeniably an opportunity for states to build on the best parts of No Child Left Behind and drive improvements in student achievement. Turning around the most troubled schools is crucial, and expanding learning time at those schools is one strategy that is worth the time and effort to design and implement well.