Expanding Time for Learning Both Inside and Outside the Classroom: A Review of the Evidence Base

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Expanding Time for Learning Both Inside and Outside the Classroom: A Review of the Evidence Base

For decades, the American public and its leaders have demanded improvements in educational outcomes for children and youth, especially disadvantaged children and youth. In response, a variety of education reforms have been implemented across the country, both within classrooms and schools and across schools and community programs. Some of these reform efforts have involved greater use of extended learning time for students – a longer school day or year, for example, or opportunities to expand learning into the out-of-school time hours. As schools, communities, and funders consider investments in extending learning opportunities, they are right to ask for evidence of the effectiveness of various approaches and to seek lessons learned from others' experiences in this field.

This report synthesizes what is known about the effectiveness of school and community interventions that aim to address deficiencies and inequities in academic achievement and educational attainment by expanding learning opportunities for students both inside and outside of school.

The evidence suggests that extended learning time programs, including extended school day (ESD), extended school year (ESY), and expanded learning opportunities (ELO) programs that provide academic services during out-of-school time hours, can be effective in improving a range of educational outcomes for students. Findings also suggest that extended learning time programs may be more advantageous for low-income, low-performing, ethnic minority or otherwise disadvantaged students.

At the same time, it is important not to overstate this conclusion. The evidence base for ESD and ESY models is limited and based largely on quasi-experimental studies that vary in their quality. While initial findings are promising, rigorous, random assignment evaluations of these approaches are needed to build an evidence base that will be genuinely useful to education reform efforts. In particular, research is needed that focuses on the unique effect of the longer school day or longer school year over and above other school features and reform efforts. The evidence base for ELO is stronger, but more random assignment evaluations are still needed in order to better understand the potential impact of these programs on outcomes such as educational attainment.

Across all approaches to extended learning time, we see that schools and programs that are well-implemented, that attract strong participation levels, and that are of high quality tend to have positive effects, whereas those that suffer from poor implementation have no effects or sometimes negative effects on children and youth. In addition, our broad review of the literature examining the relationship between time and learning in school found that simply adding time may not make much of a difference if that time is not used effectively. Thus, program implementation and quality matter a great deal.

Background and Educational Context

The educational achievement and attainment of young people in the United States has been a long-standing issue of concern. While analyses of long-term trend data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)i show that students in the United States have made gains in reading and mathematics over the past few decades, a sizeable proportion of students in this country fail to demonstrate mastery of basic reading and writing skills, lack knowledge about U.S. history or geography, and perform at below-basic levels in mathematics and the sciences.ii

Moreover, despite the gains in educational achievement made by most U.S. students over the past two decades, educational gaps in proficiency in reading and other subjects persist across income and racial groups. In addition to the achievement gap,iii widespread differences persist in the levels of educational attainment across racial/ethnic and income groups.iv These differences are highlighted in a recent report that presents national, state, and local data on graduation rates for males in the United States. The report found that the overall graduation rate for black male students attending public schools in the 2007-2008 school year was 47 percent, compared with 78 percent for their white male counterparts.v Another report presents results of a similar analysis of high school graduation rates in cities. That report provides evidence of an urban-suburban "geographic" gap, with an 18 percentage-point difference found between the on-time high school graduation rates of public school students in urban districts in comparison to public school students in suburban The same report cited an analysis of graduation rates by racial and ethnic background for public school students in the 2004-2005 school year, which found that Native American, Black, and Hispanic public school students had four-year graduation rates ranging from 50 to 58 percent, with students from each group graduating at rates well below the national average of 71 percent.

Educators and others have identified multiple reasons for such gaps in student achievement and attainment. Some have pointed to the historically uneven access that young people from different backgrounds have to quality schools. Others point to different levels of resources available to children at home and through quality programs that can promote student learning outside of school and in the home.

Why Education Matters

One of the more obvious reasons that education matters is the well-documented link between a person's educational status and his or her economic well-being. According to the U.S. Department of Education's Condition of Education 2010 report, higher levels of educational attainment are consistently found to be related to higher earnings. For instance, the report notes that the median earnings for young adults ages 25-35 with a bachelor's degree who were employed full time was $46,000; by comparison, the median earnings for young adults employed full time was $30,000 for those with a high school diploma or an equivalency degree, and $23,500 for those without a high school diploma or an equivalency degree.vii

Furthermore, numerous studies have found that the benefits of education extend beyond the improved economic well-being for individuals and into other areas. Research conducted by economists and other scholars documents the high public and private costs of high school dropout as well as the societal and private economic and noneconomic benefits of attaining higher levels of education.viii For instance, studies have shown that greater educational attainment is related to reduced involvement in crime and the criminal justice system, improved health outcomes, and higher rates of civic participation.ix

Funding and Policy Context

President Obama has voiced support for extended learning as a means to help promote achievement and "even the playing field" between the United States and other nations. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been a particularly strong advocate for this approach. He has been quoted as saying, "I think the school day is too short, the school week is too short and the school year is too short... You look at all the creative schools that are getting dramatically better results. The common denominator of all of them is they're spending more time..." (April 15, 2009). In his previous position as chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, Duncan promoted the growth of the city's community school models and other school-based and out-of-school time (OST) models that support learning beyond the typical school day and into the after-school hours, weekends, or summer months.

Beyond expressing support for extended learning time, the new federal efforts to improve education have elevated the importance of innovations that test and evaluate various education reforms, including those that increase learning time. Below is a short summary of a few funded education programs and policies that seek to expand learning opportunities by increasing the time available for students to learn.

  • Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), the Race to the Topx competition emphasized the federal government's interest in creating opportunities to increase learning time. For instance, Priority 6 of the award notice invited potential grantees to engage community partners to expand learning opportunities offered by schools, to engage families to support student learning, and to implement "new structures and formats for the school day or year that result in increased learning time." Each of the 10 phase II winners of the Race to the Top competition responded with a combination of proposed innovations and reforms to expand learning time, with seven of the 10 proposing to implement extended learning day models; seven proposing expanded year models; six proposing summer programs; seven proposing after-school programs; and two proposing full-day kindergarten.
  • In the background materials for applicants to the Investing in Innovation (i3) Fundxi and the Promise Neighborhoods,xii efforts to expand learning time implemented through school-based and out-of-school time models are noted as one of several reform strategies eligible for funding.
  • The new ARRA programs use a broad definition of expanded learning that includes models that extend the school day, extend the school year, or that support learning beyond the regular school day, such as through community school programs, before- and after-school programs, weekend programs, and summer learning programs.
  • The federal government has shown increased support for programs designed to expand learning opportunities outside of school and to provide supports for working parents. This commitment is most clearly illustrated through an examination of the rapid growth in funding for after-school and summer programs through the 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) program. Since its inception in 1996, the program has expanded from an allocated budget of less than $1 million to an allocated budget of more than $1 billion. 21st CCLC funds are now able to be used flexibly, through waivers, to support different types of extended learning, including extended school day and extended school year models.
  • The Supplemental Educational Services (SES) program provides free academic remediation help through tutoring and other activities. SES programs generally provide extra time for learning outside of the regular school day for disadvantaged students from Title 1 schools that serve predominantly low-income students.
  • In September 2011, Secretary Duncan invited states to apply to receive waivers to specific requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 in exchange for rigorous and comprehensive state education plans. Through this process, states may request the flexibility to allow districts to use 21st CCLC funds for extended school day or year initiatives. Similarly, districts may also use Title I funds previously set aside for SES tutoring or professional development for extended learning initiatives, such as after-school or summer learning.

Given the current policy and funding context, along with the widespread implementation of different types of extended learning time (ELT) programs, it is important to determine whether a solid body of research exists to support these initiatives or whether the implementation of ELT programs has outpaced the evidence of their impact.

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vii U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). The condition of education 2010 (NCES 2010-028).

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x U.S. Department of Education. (2009, November). Race to the Top executive summary. Retrieved from​etothetop/executive-summary.pdf

xi Investing in Innovation Fund Federal Register Final Rule and Notice. Retrieved from http://edocket.acces​

xii Synopsis of Promise Neighborhoods program retrieved from