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Are Expanded-Learning-Time Models Worthwhile?

Expanded Learning ModelsAs the debate over whether increasing the school day or year will improve student achievement trudges on, a new report reveals there is just not enough evidence to support this theory.

“Solving America’s Mathematics Education Problem,” researched by Child Trends, an independent research center focused on children and families, and commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, evaluated more than 80 K12 expanded learning models nationwide that increase time both inside and outside the classroom. It shows that some instances resulted in slight improvement in test scores or student behavior, but rigorous data is lacking to support it fully.

Released Aug. 16, the report examines different models, including extended school day (ESD), extended school year (ESY) and expanded learning opportunities (ELO), which offer enrichment services in school and community-based settings during nonschool hours. “Child Trends found injecting [more time] is not meaningful unless that time is of high quality,” says Lucas Held, director of communications for the Wallace Foundation.

Overall findings for ESD models reveal that expanding the school day beyond the traditional 6.5 hours most benefited at-risk or low-income students. Students in full-day kindergarten had significant gains in reading and math knowledge over their peers in half-day kindergarten; however, those gains dissipated over time and had little to no effect after first grade. The report also notes that academic gains could not be directly tied to ESD and that there was no evidence it impacted any age group differently.

ESY models tackle summer learning loss by lengthening the 180-day school year. The models examined included expansions of the year by a few days or a few weeks, and having school on a rotating cycle with no summer recess. ESY models were found to be particularly strong in increasing overall test scores and was most effective when targeting elementary school students.

A few individual reports from the 80 total studies examined found ESY to improve science and communication arts achievement throughout K12.

ELO models didn’t necessarily increase a pupil’s academic achievement, but behaviors such as completing homework and attending school more regularly were seen. The models were found to be particularly more beneficial among low-income and at-risk students.

The report emphasizes that most evaluations “lack the rigor needed for firm evidence of the impact of expanded learning,” says Held. “The slim evidence suggests that extending school time can help raise academic achievement. In all cases, program quality and implementation matter a great deal.”

Marion Herbert is a contributing writer.