The promise of a high-quality education leading to opportunity and shared prosperity for all children is a deeply held value in Massachusetts. Despite a record of prominent successes, however, our Commonwealth has struggled to provide students from all backgrounds the supports necessary for long-term life success. To confront this challenge, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center and the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy are undertaking this shared research project: the Roadmap for Expanding Opportunity: Evidence on What Works in Education.
This series of reports builds on progress initiated with the Education Reform Act of 1993, addressing critical areas in which progress has stalled. Ultimately, this project will provide a roadmap for bringing education reform into the 21st century. Reports will examine promising evidence-based strategies for supporting all children in achieving college, career, and life success. In particular, analyses will be grounded in a recognition that learning must extend beyond traditional school structures and offerings.
Reports will offer strategies for adapting a broad evidence base to local contexts, including cost analyses to assess the level of resources required to support district and statewide innovation. Ultimately, these briefs are designed to provide education leaders and practitioners with building blocks for driving future educational reforms across the Commonwealth.
For all endnotes, please see the pdf version of this paper.
The goal of Massachusetts' nation-leading education system is to provide an excellent education to youth from all backgrounds. Quality education for all of our children creates broad opportunity for success, allows us to provide for future generations, and promotes civic engagement.
All young people deserve a rich variety of academic and non-academic supports. Such supports include personalized academic instruction, engaging music and art opportunities, and challenging athletic and other enrichment programs. Unfortunately, communities in which low-income youth are raised often lack the resources to provide the wide array of supports that are common in more affluent communities. Providing these supports to help all youth reach their potential will help strengthen our workforce and the broader economy.
One way to increase these opportunities is to provide additional time for academic and enrichment activities. The benefits of additional time can be particularly important for children who would otherwise not have access to these resources.
Statewide discussions on education reform in the early 1990s included increased learning time among a range of supports that could promote wider opportunities for children. The landmark 1991 report, Every Child a Winner, from the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education stated:
"The superintendent … told us that his school offered many of his students the best few hours of their days. Given the problems these youngsters face … he placed high priority on extended day programs for disadvantaged youngsters. Similarly, any progress the schools were able to make during the academic year could be lost during the summer. Accordingly we've recommended funds for an extra four hours a day of school time for all elementary and middle school low-income youngsters and an extra 12 weeks a year of half-time programming."
Based on this recommendation, the foundation budget (the state's definition of an adequate minimum spending level) was designed to include funding for districts to provide supplemental learning opportunities for their low-income students. Unfortunately, however, many school districts have been unable to fully implement these programs because the foundation budget has not been adjusted over time to account for rising fixed costs in areas such as employee health insurance and special education. This has especially harmed low-wealth communities, limiting their ability to provide supports for low-income youth as envisioned by the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993.
Providing extra time on its own will not be enough. This paper explores the conditions under which more learning time has been used effectively to promote greater student learning, improved social skills, and better overall wellness. The available evidence shows examples of promising practices as well as cautionary tales of initiatives that were not implemented effectively.
It is important to note that quality programs require significant resources. Through several case studies that identify programs of exemplary quality, this report estimates that the annual cost of extending the school day is $1,650 per-student, providing high-quality after-school is $1,750 per-student, and providing effective summer learning is $1,450 per-student. These figures reflect the current actual costs of effective programs, and may differ from the exact cost of implementation in other communities.
When Can Increasing Learning Time Be Effective?
Schools can use increased learning time to raise academic performance and promote broader opportunity, especially for low-income youth, who generally benefit from fewer out-of-school resources than are available to their higher-income peers. In fact, there is a stark contrast between the amount of money spent by higher-income families and lower-income families on out-of-school enrichment. Specifically, the highest-income 20 percent of families spend close to seven times as much on enrichment activities than do the lowest-income 20 percent.
Fortunately, there are multiple examples of schools using increased time to successfully help level the playing field. Additional time can be particularly important for English language learners (ELL) who have to improve academic English skills. Depending on their age, ELL students can take up to five years to catch up with peers on academic language skills. Our schools, however, are expected to bring these youth to proficiency on MCAS within two years. This mismatch can be addressed with additional time.
Increasing learning time can also help provide all of our students with the deeper learning necessary to succeed in the 21st century economy. The standard calendar is a legacy of times when schooling reflected an agrarian and industrial economy. In the past, many students supported family farms and young people could leave schools with a basic education and still live successful middle-class lives. That time is long over. Expanded time public schools, such as the Matthew J. Kuss Middle School in Fall River, have used increased time to prepare students to compete in a global knowledge-based economy, providing hands on science and technology electives such as engineering, astronomy, and video production. These courses align with science standards, increase student engagement and mastery of relevant skills, and partner with outside groups, such as the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, to provide authentic field experiences.
Students are not the only beneficiaries of increased time. Teachers can benefit by having more time to collaborate and prepare for serving their students. Such activities include teachers meeting in teams across subject areas and grade levels, aligning their practices and tailoring curricular and student engagement techniques. A later case study of the Orchard Gardens Pilot School in Boston will show that an extended day can more than double the planning time available for teachers.
Parents and families can also gain from increased learning time as they are able to count on structured and safe environments for their children. These benefits are likely greatest for families struggling to find child care while working to keep food on the table. Increased time can create a better match between the school day of children and the work schedules of parents and families.
Three Options for Increasing Time
Research on existing expanded learning time programs makes clear that adding time on its own is not sufficient to promote positive social and academic growth for youth. The following sections review evidence on three options for increasing time and identify promising examples of successful implementation. These successes serve as the basis for the cost analysis that follows. The three options for increasing time explored in this paper are:
- Expanding the length of the school day, which allows for additional academic content and support, enrichment opportunities, and teacher professional development. More time, if delivered by external partners, frees up teachers to collaborate, hone their craft, and plan based on student data. At the same time, teachers, external partners, and community organizations can provide variety and broaden learning.
- Providing structured high-quality after-school services, which include enrichment and academic support for youth directly after the standard day. Delivery of after-school services does not necessarily include the direct involvement of traditional teaching staff. However, coordination between after-school and the standard day is important.
- Operating academic and enrichment programs during the summer and other school vacations, to help prevent vacation learning loss. These services also provide enrichment and other engaging experiences over the summer that are less available in communities that serve youth from lower-income backgrounds.
Option 1 – Extended School Day
One option for increased time is to extend the length of the traditional six hour school day to eight or nine hours. Massachusetts is a national leader in this field, and eight years ago, was the first state to develop a specific grant program for extended school days. Massachusetts is also home to the National Center on Time and Learning (NCTL) and its state affiliate, Massachusetts 2020, the leading technical assistance organizations actively helping districts and schools increase learning time.
Extended school days have been successful when combined with other effective practices, particularly for low-income students and those in need of academic support. Extended day had small positive effects throughout fifteen studies undertaken between 1985 and 2009. There are larger positive effects for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who struggle academically.
What matters is how time is used, not just the addition of more time. Extended day schedules have been a critical part of successful school turnarounds when they have been used to support several effective practices. These practices include increased collaboration between teachers, more effective use of student data to target academic support, improved school leadership, and deeper partnerships with community organizations.
Massachusetts Extended Learning Time Grants – Challenges and Opportunities
The Commonwealth's experience with extending school days underscores the central role of program quality in making a difference with increased time. Our state currently invests roughly $15 million annually in extended learning time (ELT) grants. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) provides ELT grants to expand the school year by 300 hours a year or 8 hours weekly. Participating schools typically receive $1,300 for each student to implement an ELT program focused on four elements: 1) increased time on core academic subjects, 2) targeted academic support for struggling students, 3) collaborative planning time for teachers, and 4) increased enrichment activities.
The returns from the state ELT grant have been inconsistent. A rigorous multi-year study by the firm Abt Associates, found no positive impact of the ELT grant on student MCAS achievement. This disappointing result reflected variation in the ability of schools to implement increased time with quality. Many students and teachers in ELT schools reported being worn out by the longer day. These sites also had fewer students reporting positive attitudes towards school. However, this study only looked at the quantity of time used on different subjects, not the quality.
Despite the lack of quality implementation of ELT grants across all participant schools, several schools stand above the pack, using extra time to enrich the student experience. For instance, Boston Arts Academy (BAA), a visual and performing arts high school, leveraged its state grant to increase teacher professional development and to bring in professional artists to work as adjunct faculty. Boston Arts Academy's unified career and enrichment focus on arts provides a clear goal for increased time, while also supporting a rigorous academic program. BAA engages youth by placing students in chosen art enrichment throughout the school day and by partnering with renowned institutions such as Berklee College of Music and the Boston Conservatory.
While it remains a Level 3 school, Boston Arts Academy students have shown academic gains since the school received the state ELT grant. BAA achieved a 96 percent proficiency rate in English Language Arts (ELA) in 2013 compared to a rate of 55 percent in 2007 (the year before it first received the grant). Math proficiency also improved from 54 to 71 percent. Although this particular set of partnerships and services is difficult to replicate, other schools and districts can learn from this model of using additional time to infuse an engaging career and enrichment focus into high schools.
EXTENDED DAY CASE STUDY - Turnaround at the Orchard Gardens Pilot K-8 in Boston
The Orchard Gardens Pilot K-8 School (OGPS) in Boston provides another useful example of successful extended day design and implementation. Before receiving Federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) to support its turnaround, OGPS was one of the lowest-ranked schools in MCAS achievement, with proficiency rates at or below 20 percent.
With SIG funding, OGPS increased professional development and improved instructional practices, using three hours daily of additional time for 6th-8th graders and one hour for K-5th. The grant required a change in the principal and many teachers. OGPS received $3.7 million in federal grants over three years to implement the changes. That amounts to roughly $1,600 per-student from the SIG grant, one of several funding sources supporting the turnaround.
The Orchard Gardens turnaround is consistent with earlier success stories from the state ELT grant and confirms the need to combine extended day with other effective practices. Orchard Gardens doubled the planning time for staff to work together and individually on data analysis, discipline, school culture, and instructional practices, providing ten hours weekly.
High-quality partner organizations were also critical to the effort. Orchard Gardens partnered with the non-profit Citizen Schools to serve its 6th-8th graders during extended time. Citizen Schools provided an array of supports including academic instruction, field trips, hands on-apprenticeships with community partners and businesses, and family engagement. BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) served as the lead partner for Orchard Gardens K-5th graders. Other partners such as City Year, Teach Plus, and ANet supported classroom management, instructional practices, school leadership, and data analysis.
Orchard Gardens achieved rapid growth in MCAS performance with the combination of resources, talent, partnerships, and increased learning time. The share of Orchard Gardens students proficient and advanced on MCAS increased by 14 percentage points in ELA and 24 points in math within three years. In 2011, the growth at OGPS exceeded 87 percent of similar schools in ELA and 98 percent in math.
Without continued funding, the Orchard Gardens turnaround may not be sustainable. The federal SIG funding ran out after three years, in 2013. In response, the school worked with private partners and Boston Public Schools to raise additional funds, trim the amount of professional development time, and reduce administrative positions. Leadership and teacher turnover is also a concern. School leaders have struggled to maintain academic successes while scrambling to assemble sufficient resources. Another concern is that funding may be removed based on the very success of the turnaround; as opposed to continuing progress long enough to make a previously failing school top quality.
that underperforming schools serving
primarily low-income students of color can increase academic
performance using extended day. This promising turnaround
required a combination of community partnerships, effective teacher
development, strong leadership, and adequate resources, features that
can be used as a blueprint for future efforts.
Although Orchard Gardens is has unique flexibilities as a pilot school, its successful elements can be adopted more broadly. Districts across the state, including Cambridge, Fall River, Greenfield, Malden, Revere, and Worcester have successfully brought stakeholders together, especially local teachers' unions, to incorporate extended day schedules into teacher contracts. These districts have worked closely with unions to facilitate extended day and have used different approaches such as providing stipends to teachers to cover additional time and having staff start and end their workday later.
Option 2 – High-Quality After-School
Schools and districts can also use after-school programming to improve supports for kids. In contrast to extended day, after-school programs typically staff extra hours of student support with professionals who are not traditional teachers. Incorporating other professional staff has the potential upside of using fresh personnel that can focus solely on after-school time, avoiding putting more responsibilities on teachers. On the other hand, outside staff may not have the same level of training as classroom teachers. In addition, after-school does not necessarily provide teachers with the enhanced professional development time that can come from an extended day.
There are numerous approaches to after-school that can be effective. Benefits arise from combining academic support with engaging activities that provide variety. Close partnerships with schools, families, and community organizations are also key to making after-school effective.
The Benefits of Quality After-School Services
A broad range of research shows that after-school can help improve student performance. One scan found positive impacts on math and reading for low-income youth across 35 studies between 1986 and 2003.
As with the research on other increased learning approaches, gains from after-school depend on quality implementation. A 2007 study of vetted high-quality programs serving 3,000 middle and elementary students in eight states, found impressive results from quality after-school. The positive impact of high-quality after-school was roughly 12 times greater than the improvement found in a national study of after-school funded by the Federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program (21st CCLC).
In addition to academic benefits, after-school can help study habits, reduce risky behaviors, and increase social-emotional wellness and health. A Harvard Family Research Project review, for instance, found that the Go Grrls program in Arizona increased self-esteem, the Medical College of Georgia FitKid program reduced obesity, and the Children's Aid Society Carrera Adolescent program reduced substance use and teen pregnancy. A University of California Irvine study found significant gains from after-school in student work habits and persistence along with improved social skills, behavior, and attendance.
Some after-school programs, however, have been implemented poorly. One of the largest after-school initiatives, the federal 21st CCLC grant, supported after-school services in 6,800 schools between 1998 and 2004. Funding also dramatically increased from $40 million in 1998 to $1 billion in 2001, where it has roughly remained since. A rigorous 2005 study found no effect on grades or standardized test scores in elementary or middle school.
The challenges found in the 21st CCLC grant are common to after-school efforts. These setbacks included high turnover among staff, low staff salaries, lack of coordination with the in-school curriculum, and burnout from teachers who taught after-school on top of a full day in the classroom. There were also problems with attendance and student attrition, with middle schoolers attending the program only once a week on average throughout the year, with declining participation over time.
AFTER-SCHOOL CASE STUDY – Los Angeles' Better Educated Students for Tomorrow
LA's BEST (Los Angeles' Better Educated Students for Tomorrow) is a large after-school program that has an established record of success. It began in 1988 when civic leaders in Los Angeles committed to provide structured after-school supports, confronting issues such as dropout rates and unsupervised time on the streets.
The LA's BEST core program consists of four daily elements called "beats" that include help with homework, academic support, enrichment sessions, and healthy meals. The program runs for three hours, five days per week. As of 2013, it served 194 elementary schools across Los Angeles reaching 28,000 youth. The program is customized based on school need, student interest, and staff expertise. Examples of enhanced programs include STEM, entrepreneurship, and creative writing. These custom elements are formed in partnership with diverse organizations such as Junior Achievement, NASA, and the University of Southern California.
Numerous research studies have shown that LA's BEST helps kids academically. Students in LA's BEST achieve increases in performance on state standardized tests in math, with greater scores for students with higher levels of attendance. Overall, LA's BEST students have improved attendance and grades in middle school and take more rigorous courses, all of which promote future success. A separate study looking at the long-term impact showed that the program increased young people's chances of graduating from high-school.
LA's BEST also helps kids beyond academics. Student aspirations of future success, including belief in finishing high school and attending college, increase for youth in LA's BEST. Social capital and positive relationships between kids and caring adult role models are also fostered. A cost-benefit study found that participation in LA's BEST reduced the likelihood of youth committing crime. Looking at the prevention of juvenile crime alone, LA's BEST delivered $2.50 for every dollar invested. It is likely the entire range of program benefits adds to this return.
Option 3 – Summer and Vacation Learning
Programming during the summer and other school vacations provide a third option for increased learning time to improve supports for kids. Summer programs in particular can address the long-standing problem of students losing academic skills during vacations. A typical child loses a month of learning over the summer, according to evidence from 40 studies going back several decades. Overall losses in math skills have been the most common, while losses in reading and language skills are more severe for low-income youth. This creates an overall gap of three months in reading skills between low-income youth who lose ground, and more affluent peers who in contrast tend to gain skills over the summer.
More recent research confirms the challenge of summer learning loss. A 2007 study that tracked low-income youth between first grade and age 22, found that two-thirds of the income-based achievement gap reflected imbalances in summer learning. Just as disturbing, this study found that summer losses persist over time, limiting access to rigorous courses in high school and higher education. Summer programming offers an opportunity to prevent achievement gaps before they form.
Vacation Week Programs in Lawrence and Boston
Lawrence and Boston have recently tested out vacation week programs that have shown promising initial signs of improving student achievement. These urban districts have many students who struggle academically and have large populations of ELL and low-income students who have the most to gain from increased learning time.
Boston and Lawrence have focused increased time efforts on February and April vacations. Several schools across Boston and Lawrence have run one-week programs called Acceleration Academies during these vacation weeks, where students who are near the proficient level on MCAS are provided an intensive one-week course led by highly qualified teachers. Over the vacation week, students are supported in academics and enrichment for five hours daily, receiving a month's worth of instruction in math or ELA. Students also earn incentives for participation and benefit from class sizes of less than half the norm.
So far, the return from vacation academies in Boston and Lawrence has been notable considering their short duration. The Boston program, which spread from a single pilot site, Clarence Edwards Middle School, to eight others, was associated with increases in MCAS growth percentiles of 14 points in ELA and 13 points in Math compared to non-participants, with greater gains for SPED and ELL students. This represents enough gains to move a student from moderate to high growth on a statewide metric.
In the first year of Lawrence's turnaround plan, these academies helped close the previous gap between Lawrence and other low-income urban districts in the state. Their effects were comparable to more time intensive strategies. In this first year, acceleration academies helped deliver half of district gains in math, and it was only students in these academies that showed significant improvement on ELA.
There are potential drawbacks with the strategy. These include the intense focus on test preparation that could be at the expense of broader learning, and the selection of kids based on better behavior and MCAS scores within range of proficiency. These students may not be representative of a wider population that also needs additional support. It also remains to be seen if gains from temporary academies will be retained over time.
SUMMER LEARNING CASE STUDY – BELL (Building Educated Leaders For Life)
As with extended day and after-school, there are quality summer learning practices already in place helping kids. One exemplar organization, BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) has achieved positive results. Currently the program works in urban areas in 13 states and Washington D.C. The BELL approach consists of classes of 20 students with a qualified classroom teacher alongside a teaching assistant, typically a college student. In Massachusetts, BELL Summer operates for five to six weeks throughout the summer with classes meeting Monday to Friday for six hours. Students benefit from a variety of elements, including academic instruction in math and literacy, enrichment classes including art, science, physical education, and off-site field trips.
BELL has a positive impact on academics, based on a 2006 study using the most rigorous standard for evaluation, a randomized control trial. The study compared students randomly assigned to BELL in three sites across Boston and New York City to non-participants. The impact of BELL on reading test scores was a months' worth of academic growth, results that are similar to the same amount of time spent in school.
In this study, the control group, which attained one fewer month of academic growth, had parents who actively signed them up for summer programs. This control group received almost as much summer enrichment time, but in other programs that may not have had the same quality elements. Gains from BELL would likely be larger compared to students who had no structured support. There were other positive indicators for BELL participants including families spending more time reading together and a reduction of time watching television.
Overall, BELL has a significant track record, and has continued to refine its approach while expanding to more regions of the country. It has done this through new partnerships with school districts from North Carolina to California, and with the national YMCA network. Based on this record of success DESE has identified BELL as a Priority Partner for school turnaround.
The Costs of Increasing Time
When increased time is implemented with quality, it can have many benefits for young people. The following cost analysis estimates the resources required to implement the quality programs covered in the case studies. These estimates can provide a reasonable baseline for the funding necessary to bring similar programs to more communities. However, the actual cost of implementing increased time will vary based on local conditions.
It is worth keeping in mind a few common characteristics of costs that apply to increasing learning time across all communities. Overall, the marginal cost of more learning time is lower than regular school costs, because factors such as facilities and transportation tend to be fixed. Teaching staff is the largest cost. The mix of instructional staff between regular teachers, assistants, and partner organizations plays a large role in the staffing cost and the overall financing of increased time. Administrative costs are less variable than teaching staff but do increase with added time.
There is no one size fits all approach to staffing increased time. Teacher burnout and inadequate training for outside providers are potential risks. Finding a separate staff of part-time workers, may be difficult, especially those with the appropriate skills and background. There are also regional differences in where high-quality partner organizations are located. Despite the constraints, each of the case studies has developed an approach that works to deliver results. Although the case studies are focused on elementary or middle school students, the programmatic building blocks are appropriate for all youth and can be tailored to the needs of high school youth.
Cost of Extended Day
In 2014, the National Center on Time and Learning (NCTL) profiled five exceptional extended day schools. Each made an extended day work in a traditional public district, using various sources of funding, and each outperformed peer district schools. NCTL found that expanded day schools tapped into a variety of funding streams including federal, state, local, and philanthropic funds. The effective extended day schools profiled required dedicated resources, yet none had a reliable long-term funding source. This created a yearly scramble to locate funding.
Focusing on the Orchard Gardens Pilot K-8 School in particular, the NCTL study found that the total cost for the program was $1,653 per-student (adjusted for inflation, 2014). This average figure masks greater cost for three hours of extended day programming for middle schoolers. The middle school extended day cost $1,732 per-student at the school level and $1,636 per-student in additional funds from the lead partner Citizen Schools. Although the total resources for the middle school program is relatively high compared to other increased learning time options at $3,368, Citizen Schools has the ability to raise outside funds, making the district cost of expanding these services closer to the $1,732 per-student costs at the school level.
The additional hour of school time at Orchard Gardens for K-5th graders costs significantly less, $962 per-student, in inflation adjusted terms. The additional resources invested in the middle school program were beneficial. Greater academic growth has been achieved by the 6th-8th graders with three additional hours daily, compared to K-5th graders who only had an additional hour.
Cost of High-Quality After-School
According to their 2012-2013 annual report, LA's BEST reported total costs of $46 million, split between $44 million in site program costs and $2 million in administration. Program staff salary and benefits, student meals, supplies, and transportation were 93 percent of program costs.
This total funding supports 28,000 students served, leading to a per-student cost of $1,747 for high quality after-school, after adjusting for regional price differences and inflation.
Cost of Summer Learning
In 2013, BELL Summer reported total costs of $12.33 million for its summer operations, serving 8,756 students, for a per-student cost of $1,440 in current dollars. BELL reported that a large share of its overall spending, 88 percent is focused on program activities.
Conclusion and Policy Considerations
Many model schools and programs have increased learning time for youth, through summer, after-school, and extended school days, in ways that have yielded strong results for students. To get positive results, schools must combine increased time with other effective practices. These quality practices include enhanced professional development for teachers, enrichment that provides variety and authentic field experiences, partnerships with community organizations, and use of student data to target academic support. These approaches combined with increased learning time hold the potential to enhance the academic and life prospects for youth, particularly those from low-income communities who could benefit the greatest from enhanced supports.
The costs of implementing programs like the effective case studies are significant. It is important to note that each of the case studies costs more than the $1,300 per-student funding available through the state ELT grant. These cases also suggest that multiple sources of funding can contribute towards efforts at expanded time. Sustained resources are likely the only way to build and sustain long-term results.
Given the costs, it is imperative to think carefully about which schools and districts should be the focus of state supported efforts to increase learning time. Taking into account academic needs and the demographic profile of students likely to benefit the most from additional supports are starting points for consideration. Within districts and schools that face multiple challenges within and beyond the school walls, there are other criteria to consider. All school stakeholders, including principals, teachers, unions, families, and community organizations, should be on board actively supporting increased time. Extended time can be part of a holistic approach to academic and social progress.
A culture of experimentation and learning among the professional educators carrying out increased learning time is also crucial. Massachusetts has already learned much in this area. However, trying out new efforts over several years is a key step in bringing the approaches that have worked in specific locations to state-wide scale. Use of MCAS, PARCC or other standardized assessments is only one domain of outcomes to measure. Successful expanded learning initiatives have focused on health and wellness, built relationships between youth and caring adults, and provided hands-on career relevant learning opportunities. At its best, increased learning time can be beneficial, relevant, and engaging for kids. This potential can be realized for more youth and communities across Massachusetts.