More than 200 educators and district leaders from 13 school districts across seven states gathered last Friday and Saturday to discuss how Expanded Learning Time (ELT) can improve learning for students and help schools reach new common core standards, and how to pay for it.
The third annual Citizen Schools ELT Partnership Summit, held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, united school principals and teaching teams from more than 25 schools that are currently partnering with Citizen Schools or launching partnerships this fall. Each of these ELT schools are expanding from a six or seven hour learning day to a nine or 10 hour day, adding more time for academic practice and more time for enrichment. This includes the signature apprenticeships of Citizen Schools in which volunteer professionals from the community -- such as engineers, architects, lawyers, and financial advisers -- lead hands-on courses that connect academic skills to real-world careers. The extra learning time is led by a "second shift" of educators, including AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows, who support teachers in the "regular" day and lead academic and enrichment learning in the extended hours.
Summit participants discussed team-teaching models that connect AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows (many of them pursuing their teaching certificates) with full-time teachers, as well as innovative "blended learning" efforts that replace traditional homework with computer-based skill-building monitored by Citizen Schools' staff. There was also a focus on evaluation and ways that schools and their Citizen Schools partners could share data on student learning.
A key theme of the Summit was financing. Principals and teachers as well as Citizen Schools staff and several district budget experts grappled with the best way to fund ELT, and how to deliver more services to their students in a cost-effective way. Participants even played a card game, "Budget Hold-em" -- an adaption of the popular poker game Texas Hold-em -- in which players select cards that contain choices they need to make that will either add to or cut costs for an imaginary district. The game was developed by Education Resource Strategies (ERS), which partnered with Citizen Schools to deliver the workshop.
Several school principals who spoke during the budget discussion said the value proposition of ELT, in which they could gain eight to 10 full-time staff for their school plus hundreds of well-trained volunteers, was compelling and motivated them to get creative in finding ways to save elsewhere. Myetie Hamilton, Chief Officer of the Chicago Public Schools' School Support Center, said that as Chicago and other districts have faced greater cost pressures in recent years there has been a premium on examining investments that provide "the greatest ROI" (return on investment) and that are made with student learning in mind. "Sometimes an outside partner can help a school deliver more to students," said Hamilton.
Other leaders at the Summit cautioned that while "out of the box" creative thinking about how to re-prioritize current budgets is important, it is also important to grow total investment in public education, particularly in schools serving the lowest income children. "We need to re-arrange things in the box, and we need to think outside of the box, but we also need to invest in a bigger box," said Kilian Betlach, Principal of Elmhurst Community Prep in East Oakland, a turnaround school that partners with Citizen Schools and that last year delivered the highest gains in student proficiency of any Oakland middle school.
Some participants noted the brutal financial conditions in their states and districts, saying that funding Citizen Schools required use of dedicated federal funds -- such as the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, or Title I and Supplemental Educational Services, or School Improvement Grants -- because core state and local funding was already stretched too thin. The Obama Administration waiver program has helped some states and districts make better use of some of these federal funding streams, but participants noted that dedicating federal funds to ELT partnerships usually requires coordination at the school, district, and state level.
Other participants reported that state budgets are starting to bounce back and urged colleagues to start planning for -- and advocating for -- a robust expansion of high-quality ELT initiatives.
In Massachusetts and New York, for example, Governors Deval Patrick and Andrew Cuomo inserted new ELT initiatives in their fiscal year 2014 budget requests. New York's initiative was funded for this year at $20 million and the state will be selecting ELT pilot programs in the coming weeks. The Massachusetts initiative, which has not yet been funded by the legislature, calls for $75 million to provide ELT funds to all Title I middle schools that pledge to add at least 300 hours of learning time and create a compelling proposal to add enrichment and academic learning in partnership with community organizations such as Citizen Schools.
Other ELT initiatives include a city-level pilot in New York City called The Middle School Quality Initiative led by the New York City Department of Education in partnership with the New York City Council, The After-School Corporation (TASC), and The Robin Hood Foundation. This spring the organizers randomly selected 20 schools to implement ELT from a pool of 40 that had expressed interest. The Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University (EdLabs) will be conducting a Randomized Control Trial evaluation of the initiative, and Citizen Schools will be partnering with the Renaissance School of the Arts as part of the effort. In Texas, the legislature recently passed legislation forming a commission to study ELT, and in New Jersey, the State Senate proposed a bill to establish a pilot program to increase the length of the school day and school year and provide tax credits for corporate contributions to fund the program.
As Citizen Schools embarks on year four of our national ELT initiative we are encouraged by the promising results our school partnerships are seeing -- gains in student learning in math and reading that exceed the gains achieved by Charter Management Organizations that have scaled nationally (according to the national charter school study released recently by CREDO at Stanford) as well as other celebrated education reforms. We are putting our schools and our students on a path to close a majority of the achievement gap by the end of middle school while also providing the learning opportunities and building the social skills and social networks that will enable students to ultimately eliminate the gap in high school completion and college and career success. We also recognize that, as Principal of Newark's Eagle Academy for Young Men, Vaughn Thompson, said, we must pay attention not just to the current "moment in time" but to "building a movement that can lift up educational opportunity for all children."
Eric Schwarz is the Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools and the Executive Chairman of US2020.
Callie Kozlak is the Director of Public Funding Strategy for Citizen Schools