Connecting the Dots on Expanded Learning Time
Lucy Friedman is TASC's President.
The U.S. is still providing education as if we lived in an agrarian economy “and we needed the children home to work the fields,” New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said yesterday in his State of the State address as he proposed to enact a state grant program that would give school districts incentives to expand the school day or year. Thanks to the governor’s bold proposal, New York State has the best chance we may see in generations to give disadvantaged students the learning time and opportunities they need to meet the ever-escalating demands of life in a knowledge economy.
This is our chance to get expanded learning right from the start, not just to re-arrange school and family schedules. So let’s seize the opportunity to think through what a highly effective learning day or year must offer.
How should schools be organized and staffed to elevate the quality of education in poor communities, and to give all students the basics like arts and sports and other motivating opportunities that are standard in more affluent kids’ lives?
How do we reinvent schools to encompass great teaching, exciting hands-on learning in topics like science, and support for students to develop the traits they need to overcome poverty’s stresses?
The Governor put forth a few pathways. We just need to connect the dots. We can blend two of his proposals into one proven approach by developing more community schools that give kids and families all the supports they need to succeed—as the Governor suggested—and that also expand the school day or year.
It just makes sense to join schools with strong community partners to expand learning, for four reasons.
First, New York State and cities like New York, under Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg, have already begun to break down bureaucratic silos and coordinate the efforts of schools and government agencies at all levels. We can build on those efforts that also bring together parents, the private sector and strong youth-serving community organizations, all of whom have a stake in the future success of our kids.
Second, it’s a cost-effective way to expand learning time. We know—because we do it in TASC ExpandED Schools—that we gain cost efficiencies and can serve more students when we partner schools with community organizations to expand the school day by blending public and private, education and youth services funding.
Perhaps most importantly, it’s the pathway to better outcomes for kids. The evidence is clear that students at the highest risk benefit and improve their achievement when we use more learning time well to support both academic mastery and kids’ social and emotional skills and resiliency.
Finally, if we accept that changes in family structure and schedules, technology, and the demands of the international workplace all point to the eventual extinction of the 19th century agrarian-model school day, then we need to starting thinking differently about who can help students learn. Schools and teachers can’t do it alone. Asking teachers to work an additional three hours every school day would lead not just to burnout, but to even greater stresses on school budgets.
That means changing what we picture when we think about schools. Many of us have a hard time conceiving of school as anything but a place where teachers stand in front of classrooms for 6-plus hours a day, 180 days a year, then disappear over the summer. Many high-needs schools invite in community educators—informal science specialists, teaching artists, AmeriCorps members who provide intensive math and literacy tutoring—to provide kids with a well-rounded education before and after 3 PM.
As an example, PS 186 in Brooklyn, one of TASC’s ExpandED Schools, provides 500 students with three additional hours of learning a day by adding to the school faculty 50 community educators, trained and supported by NIA Community Services Network. The principal, teachers and NIA educators form one unified team that have broadened the curriculum beyond what the school could afford to offer alone, and targeted social and emotional supports, academic help and parent services to students and families who could benefit.
The Governor and members of his New NY Education Reform Commission are conversant with the synergies between school-and-community partnership and more and better learning for kids. It’s clear they’re thinking creatively about how to staff and organize schools to make the most of taxpayer investments.
The rest of society needs to catch up to the vision of schools as community centers, not islands that stand alone.