Posted September 22, 2021
Blog / Enabling High-Quality Teaching and Learning
Closing Equity Gaps through Expanded Learning Time: What We’ve Learned from Supporting ELT Planning This Past Year
Recent research by The Education Trust (Ed Trust) and MDRC identified Expanded Learning Time (ELT) as one of three effective strategies for solving unfinished learning, particularly that caused by the pandemic, for the country’s most underserved students.
Supporting high-quality Expanded Learning Time (ELT) has been a key priority of FourPoint Education Partners (FourPoint) from our inception. Through our work growing state and city networks, supporting the implementation of longer school days and years, and building sustainable community schools, we have built deep knowledge and understanding of how ELT can be implemented and the power of high-quality programs to improve outcomes for students.
Over the past year, FourPoint has partnered with the Texas Education Agency to help districts plan strategically to redesign for an ‘Additional Days School Year’ (ADSY). We have assisted these partners with community engagement, as well as instructional and operational planning, including budgeting for sustainability in summer learning as well as full-year redesign models.
The support we have provided gives us a unique perspective and experience to support additional communities, in Texas and around the country, as education leaders identify, plan, and implement approaches to incorporating ELT into their work to close the persistent equity gaps that have been widened by the pandemic.
What we have learned through partnering with Alief Independent School District and San Marcos Community Independent School District will help us better support additional communities receiving ADSY grant planning and implementation funds, but these lessons are informative for any community working to incorporate ELT into ESSER-supported plans.
In the 2020-2021 school year, ADSY strategic plans required 7 components as part of a plan for additional days. The work unfolded in two stages, beginning with developing the structures and frame for the longer year (Part I) and then figuring out the operational details (Part II).
These components cover a comprehensive range of educational planning areas. For school communities to successfully redesign the entire school year, it is essential to be mindful of how these domains interact. Similarly, FourPoint applies the Coherence Framework introduced by the Public Education Leadership Project (PELP) at Harvard University, to help ensure school community leaders take into account the key elements – stakeholders, systems, structures, resources, and culture – that support an improvement strategy, bringing those elements into a coherent relationship and guiding the actions of people through the school community to ensure high levels of student achievement, using an equity lens mindful of the environment in the community.
Supporting ADSY planning across these components affirmed several key lessons, which we will use to inform our support for additional communities as they plan for extended learning time.
- Stakeholder Engagement: Early, Often, and Creative
School communities include internal and external stakeholders. Each of these stakeholder groups has important perspectives and considerations to keep in mind. Both internal and external stakeholders need adequate time to consider, discuss, and inform ELT plans.
Internal stakeholders have logistical matters to attend to, making adjustments to existing operations, while following or revising existing policies. Forming a cross-departmental ELT committee that meets regularly and has the clear and vocal support of high-level champions can help prevent roadblocks in both buy-in and coordination.
External stakeholders, particularly families, will also have important decisions to make, potentially choosing to transfer to another school, if a more traditional calendar better aligns with their work situation, child care needs, or other circumstances. And students are also important contributors to planning conversations; extended learning time should support their dreams, aspirations, and learning needs.
Our partners found great value in work we conducted to develop brief, engaging videos that both share information about the ADSY initiative and foster engagement and feedback. We developed distinct videos for three primary audiences: staff, families and the community, and students. We learned that it is important to collaborate closely with the district communications team to align messaging with the district’s broader communications work, which provides the benefit of their long-term engagement efforts, heightening reach and buy-in from the community.
Our partners at San Marcos ISD summarized our engagement work with this helpful infographic.
- Think Holistically
Redesigning the school day or school year provides school communities with the opportunity to ‘zoom out’ to see the big picture: What could school be? Extended learning time can and should be beneficial to students, teachers, families, and those who support them. Operationally, school communities need to think several years out. Short-term grant funds should help establish the foundation for a new approach but also be designed in such a way that school communities can continue to tap into the necessary public and private funding streams to sustain the model.
- Use Time Wisely
Expanded Learning Time shouldn’t be ‘more of the same.’ We helped our district partners plan in ways that align with what Ed Trust and MDRC found to be effective.
What the Research Says about ELT Implementation and EffectivenessEd Trust. (2021). https://edtrust.org/resource/expanded-learning-time/
As districts plan and implement plans to recover from the impact of the pandemic, we are grateful for the opportunity to share what we have learned and applied to successfully leverage Expanded Learning Time as an effective strategy for closing persistent equity gaps.