Extending the "extended learning time" discussion

Last week I blogged about my concerns with a recent study that attributes much of Boston charter school success to longer school day. Michael Jonas at Commonwealth wrote up the same concern, but he found this new nugget.

Another new study – this one quietly tucked away on the state education department website – has looked at results of the effort to date, and the findings suggest an extended day isn’t making much of a difference.

The study, carried out for the department by researchers at Abt Associates, found higher MCAS science scores for fifth graders in expanded learning time (ELT) schools than at matched comparison schools. Apart from that, however, the report says “no other statistically differences were found between ELT and matched comparison schools on MCAS scores.”

Hmm. More time didn't make a difference. Why not? I think Chris G has it right:

“Execution is always critical,” says Chris Gabrieli, Mass. 2020’s founder. “Policies for change have to combine, at a minimum, the three big levers of people, data, and time.” Which is another way of saying you need the right people in place and a relentless focus on using data to structure the curriculum and deliver instruction to each student in a way that takes advantage of the longer school day.

Leaders of high-achieving charter schools almost universally believe more time makes a big difference....But (Will) Austin cautions that a longer day – Roxbury Prep runs from 7:45 to 4:15 – in no way guarantees such results. “Institutions and people matter,” he says. You need the “ability and the human capital” to make full use of the extra time.

So who are the right people, the ones who can make an extended day work?

It depends. Is the extra time staffed by teachers, or is it from volunteers and college students and AmeriCorps, Bell Foundation and CityYear and Citizen Schools and other non-teachers?

If ELT is run by teachers, then the same stuff applies as during the "regular school day." An effective team of teachers at 2pm will add value at 3.30pm, too. Many schools don't have enough effective teachers.

If the extra time is handled by the volunteer type brigade, then you need a manic, awesome, tough leader who can recruit, train, manage, fire the less-skilled helpers. Our school's early experience in 2000 and 2001 was that productivity plummeted once the helpers arrived....we didn't have tight systems and didn't realize the unbelievable amount of leadership work it takes to whip that "extended" time into shape.

The ELT at MATCH in 2000 and 2001 also bugged the teachers. They wanted to get planning work done, but they often felt pulled in to trouble shoot kid issues that flared during the longer hours.