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Six Factors for Implementing a Successful Expanded Learning Time

Six Factors for Implementing a Successful Expanded Learning Time

29 April, 2016

Clarence R. Edwards Middle School (“the Edwards” as it is known locally within Boston Public Schools) became one of the first schools in the state of Massachusetts to implement the Expanded Learning Time (ELT) Initiative in the fall of 2006. The simple reasons for these are: the school was not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and the school wanted to make significant academic gains with our students.

As it turned out, making the school day longer was one of the best things done to help reform the school model and improve student outcomes.

Statewide exam scores, student enrollment, daily student attendance rate, community and family engagement, and time for team teaching/collaboration all improved as a result of ELT.

An Optimized School Day

Essentially, the ELT schedule involves three extra hours of school time four days a week, and half-days on Fridays for students. Within a single school day, pupils are enrolled in four core classes (English language arts, math, science, and social studies), one specialty class, one academic intervention course, and one extra-curricular enrichment course. Fridays, after students are dismissed, there is whole-staff professional development when teachers collaborate with their colleagues in common planning time meetings.

Gathering Stakeholders and Data

Before taking ELT into effect, the Edwards team formed focus groups consisting of administrators, teachers, staff, and other community partners. The groups met regularly to research the model and to discuss the effecr of the proposed changes on daily operations, curriculum, instruction, and enrichment practices. Key school leaders and teachers gathered data, input, and reflections from school-based teams, and used this information to design the content for the grant that ultimately led to program funding from the Massachusetts Department of Education.

Leadership Structure

Sharing decision-making across three of major school governing bodies is important. Together these groups provided the insight, consultation, voting processes, and other elements that allowed us to finalize both the expectations for and details of the ELT plan. These groups were:

  • School Site Council
    • Members: principal, teachers, union reps, parents
    • Focus Areas: major school policy, family engagement
  • Instructional Leadership Team
    • Members: principal, director of instruction, director of ELT, department chair teacher leaders, outside providers
    • Focus Areas: teaching and learning, curriculum, assessment, professional development
  • Team Leadership Team
    • Members: principal, assistant principal, director of instruction, director of ELT, head of school climate, student support coordinator, team leader teacher leaders, outside providers
    • Focus Areas: operations, climate, student support

Union Support

It was vital to get not only staff buy-in, but also the support and endorsement of the Boston Teachers Union (BTU). Early on, school leaders collaborated with the BTU and negotiated the details of teacher compensation for ELT work. The pay agreement established that BTU teachers would continue to work their regular contractual day, and self-select to continue work during ELT hours. Compensation for these hours was based on a negotiated contractual hourly rate. Choices for ELT teaching included a one-hour academic intervention course four days a week and/or a two-hour elective course (an extracurricular or academic-based elective) two days a week. Union representatives also believed in the correlation between extra time in school and enhanced student achievement, and their support for the plan truly helped strengthen staff buy-in, motivating teachers to participate. In our seven years of ELT, over 90 percent of our BTU staff has chosen to work during the expanded hours.

Student Participation to Boost Engagement

Students were also asked in the original design of ELT. They were surveyed on which electives they would want offered during the last two hours of their school day. Core Boston Public Schools teachers, multiple outside providers, and community partners were employed to teach electives courses. These include swimming, tennis, football, basketball, track, baseball, cheerleading, step dancing, karate, break-dancing, ballet, Zumba, art, anime, concert band, rock band, musical theater, cooking, and many others.

Student Data for Targeted Interventions

Student performance data is another key element driving instructional design for the academic intervention hour. Due to low statewide exam scores in math prior to 2006, it was decided to focus the first-year efforts on math support for all students. As math scores went up in the ensuing years, academic intervention efforts was expanded to include ELA and science. Extra academic hours of teachers were also used to provide targeted one-on-one and small group intervention for the students with special needs who are significantly behind grade levels in reading, and additional hours of ESL instruction were provided to beginning ELL students.

There have been many factors leading to the success of ELT at the Edwards. Not least were the essential planning efforts undertaken by school leaders, teachers, and staff before implementing ELT. Today the Edwards is recognized as one of the highest-performing middle schools within the Boston Public Schools, and the school schedule was shared as a national model for ELT. Due to all the hard work and collaborative energy of teachers, administration, school-based leadership teams, community partners, students, and families, the Edwards has reached and continues to meet the goals for student accomplishment and for providing middle school students in Boston with quality education in academics and enrichment.