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ABOUT TIME: Public Schools Use Expanded Learning Time to Close Student Achievement Gaps

More than 1 million students, the majority of whom are from low-income families, attend expanded-time schools, twice as many students as in 2012, according to a new report from the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL) and the Education Commission of the States (ECS). For the first time, traditional public schools, rather than charter schools, account for the majority of expanded-time public schools. Noncharter public schools now represent 61 percent of the nation’s 2,009 expanded-time schools. Expanded-time schools increase learning time for all students—not just subgroups of students, operate with at least a seven-hour school day, and have a substantially longer day or year when compared to neighboring public schools.

“While all students can benefit from additional learning time, high-poverty students benefit the most,” according to the report, Learning Time in America: Trends to Reform the American School Calendar. At a time when affluent families are “devoting increasing amounts of time and money to broaden their children’s educational and enrichment opportunities … high-poverty students … often do not have access to the same kind of out-of-school family and community learning resources—a reality that exacerbates and widens both opportunity and achievement gaps.” To address these disparities, the report continues, more schools are expanding the school day and/or school year to increase learning time.

Nearly 70 percent of expanded-time schools serve populations where at least 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. State policymakers increasingly are turning to expanded learning time to transform low-performing schools and provide greater educational equity between groups of students.

In 2013 and 2014, state legislatures passed more than forty laws that either established rules around learning time or created ways for schools and/or districts to expand learning time. Since then, at least thirty-five districts across more than ten states have implemented a longer school day and/or school year in select schools, according to the report.

Similarly, recent changes in federal policy have fueled the increase in expanded-time schools, the report states. Under the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, for instance, schools can choose from four different reform models to improve student achievement. But, 95 percent of SIG-funded schools have selected either the “transformation” or “turnaround” model, both of which include increased learning time as a central reform element. About two-thirds of SIG schools have implemented some form of increased learning time, according to the NCTL report.

Additionally, in 2012, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) implemented a system of “waivers” granting states flexibility from certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Under the waiver system, ED granted states greater flexibility in the use of some federal funding, which has enabled schools to redesign and expand learning time. Through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program, for example, school districts can receive grants for expanding enrichment opportunities for students through before-school, after-school, and summer programs. While the 21st CCLC originally required schools to use these funds for programs operated during “non-school hours,” the waiver system now permits schools to use the federal funds “to increase learning opportunities for all students by redesigning and significantly expanding school hours,” according to the NCTL report. Twenty-six states and Puerto Rico have waivers to use the 21st CCLC funding for expanded learning time.

But simply adding extra time to the school day will not ensure that struggling students receive the support and interventions they need to succeed academically. Schools must use that additional learning time in meaningful ways. As part of its Common Core and Equity video series, the Alliance for Excellent Education spoke with educators in California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maryland, and Ohio about how they have reinvented their use of time to implement the Common Core State Standards. The video, Common Core Implementation: Use of Time, explores how schools and districts in these five states have restructured their school-day schedules to better support instruction and educator development.

Learning Time in America: Trends to Reform the American School Calendar is available at

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