In all the excitement of stimulus funds coming down to the local level and the requirements of addressing lost learning time, many new ideas are being floated on how to help students once full-time in-person instruction begins again. An idea being discussed by districts across the country is the idea of extended learning time. It is important to understand major differences between merely more seat-time requirements and Extended Learning Time in the proper context.
One of the most significant benefits of personalized learning is that students have at least some agency over how, what, when, and where they learn. The idea that the school day and instruction must revolve around antiquated seat-time policies that require students to be in seats for a predetermined set of instructional time has shown almost no correlation to increased student engagement or achievement.
Even in states where seat-time is no longer a requirement for funding accountability purposes, districts are just scratching the surface on allowing students to work at their own pace and implement true competency-based and personalized learning models. To understand the difference between extended learning time and simply additional time, district leaders must first know the definitions of both.
What is Extended Learning Time? (ELT)
According to the Learning Policy Institute, Extended Learning Time is defined as opportunities taking place “before and after the typical school day and over summer vacation and other scheduled breaks. While many schools offer after-school programs and weekend enrichment opportunities, these opportunities do not necessarily constitute ELT. Quality ELT is not just an add-on program, field trip, or enrichment opportunity; it complements the learning that takes place during the typical school day in ways that support essential curricular standards and the learning activities developed to achieve those standards.”
True ELT has been found effective in engaging students. For example, a report from the Wallace Foundation finds that:
- ELT programs provide measurable benefits to youth and families on outcomes directly related to program content.
- Academic ELT programs can demonstrably improve academic outcomes and do not necessarily reduce program attendance at the elementary level.
- Program quality and intentionality influence outcomes.
- Youth need to attend regularly to benefit from programming measurably.
What is Additional Learning Time?
Additional learning time does not include the idea of enrichment opportunities for students. It is, at best, a set number of hours or days added to the calendar to simplify a complex issue for state funding purposes. These added hours often upset educators, and according to a study from the Wing foundation finds, “little to suggest that either practice-increasing the length of the school year or the school day-has a significant impact on student achievement.”
We Cannot Conflate Extended Learning Time and Additional Learning Time
COVID-19 has the potential for the entire field of education to grow and change- providing opportunities from funding, flexibility, and leadership that encourage innovation within the United States Department of Education. Districts considering additional learning time would be well-served to consider instead solutions that give time back to educators and students in the classroom. For example, single sign-on has been shown to produce a savings of 2,500 hours per month in instructional learning time. There are many decisions to be made in the coming months - district leaders must make intelligent ones that are best for both students and educators.