This report summarizes the discussion that took place at Reimagining the School Day: More Time for Learning, a two day-conference sponsored by The Wallace Foundation that brought more than 70 education, nonprofit and policy leaders to Washington, D.C. in May 2011 to explore expanding learning time for disadvantaged youth. Attendees acknowledged the growing recognition of summer learning loss as a very real phenomenon that takes its biggest toll on the most vulnerable: low-income youngsters. In addition, the traditional school day and year may simply not be enough to enable America’s neediest urban children to gain the knowledge necessary to lead successful lives in the 21st century. And yet extra time won’t help, unless that time is spent in high-quality programs where kids are actively engaged in learning.
Participants discussed promising programs in expanding learning time that had recently begun to emerge in response to these challenges, from innovative school district-run summer projects to technology-driven classrooms during the school year. But they also talked about the frustrating barriers they faced, including inertia borne out of traditional notions of school time, shrinking government revenues, red tape, and infighting among education and after-school supporters. Participants also observed that schools need partners to help fill the extra hours with activities that not only effectively teach children but also capture their imaginations. Achieving such collaborations requires strong hands at the helm, and forum attendees stressed the need for leadership by mayors, superintendents, principals and heads of community organizations.