Extending learning time may be easier—and less costly—than you think.
Here’s how several highly effective schools have done it.
Across the United States, many schools have thrown off the shackles of the traditional school schedule, with its six-and-one-half-hour day and 180-day year. These expanded learning time (ELT) schools, which typically serve at-risk populations—students in poverty, students with special
needs, English language learners, and minorities—believe
that with more learning time, they can raise student academic
achievement, provide a more well-rounded education, and
enable teachers to engage in more collaboration and planning.
Many ELT schools are closing the achievement gap; broadening the curriculum to include subjects beyond the tested ones;
and offering enrichment opportunities in the arts, music,
drama, and sports at a time when other schools have cut back
in those areas.
With President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan calling for more learning time and bringing
federal resources to bear, interest in this reform has grown.
Yet in a time of resource challenges, many educators see the
cost of expanding learning time as a barrier.
Although some educators are daunted by Benjamin Frank-
lin’s admonishment, “Remember that time is money,” we
would do better to attend to famed UCLA basketball coach
John Wooden’s exhortation, “If you don’t have time to do it
right, when will you have time to do it over?”
The simplest model for expanding learning time—increas-
ing staff teaching time at an hourly rate—may leap to mind
first. However, the truth is that scheduled learning time can
be expanded far more cost effectively than that. Let’s look at
what it actually costs existing ELT schools to add learning
time and how they do it efficiently.
What It Costs Now
With at least 1,000 schools across the United States currently
expanding learning time, we have empirical evidence on cost,
with a reported range from zero dollars to about $1,300 per
student per year. Additional costs can be negligible in schools
with a high degree of autonomy, including in the area of compensation. The majority of no-cost extended learning time
schools are public charter schools that are exempt from most
local regulations and have used extended learning time since
their inception. They have recruited teachers and staff who
are willing to sign on for all the components of working at the
school, including longer hours. In a survey that the National
Center on Time and Learning conducted of a sample of 175
U.S. extended learning time schools, more than one-half paid
no extra compensation to teachers for working more time. 1
Further, some schools have been able to include extended
learning time at no overall higher cost, even as they pay teachers more. These schools pay an hourly amount or a stipend
for added time but have made trade-offs in their programs
and expenses (for example, a smaller nonteaching staff) to