11/17/2010 09:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Unlocking the Power of More Learning Time

There's more than one way to expand the school day so that kids make academic gains, engage more deeply in school and develop the resiliency they need to persist through high school and college graduation.

There's the method used by some high-performing charter schools, which do it in-house with teachers and principals and selective help from activity specialists and volunteers. There's the method we are piloting in New York City, where teachers team up with staff from strong community organizations, such as settlement houses, to give kids more time on task plus sports, arts and the social supports many need to manage lives filled with stress.
If you accept that there's not enough time in a six-hour school day to prepare kids for success in the 21st century, you must answer two questions. Which longer learning time strategies pass muster for high quality and effectiveness in helping kids master reading and math and long-term skills like collaborative problem-solving? And is there a cost-effective way to go to scale, especially in this economy?

The vast majority of students do not attend schools -- charters or others -- where teachers have signed on to work 10-hour days. If we can't partner up community organizations with schools -- and build on the vast public investments in both realms -- we'll never reach the millions of kids who need more time and opportunities to learn.

Differences have emerged among some after-school advocates and some proponents of longer school days over how to use federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers money to keep kids learning after 3. Many in the after-school community worry that federal money now used to support after-school programs could be diverted to longer school days that offer kids more-of-the-same, delivered by teachers alone.

I lead an organization -- The After-School Corporation -- which has helped more than 325,000 kids through high-quality after-school programs. TASC is also piloting a longer school day model which builds on evidence from the most transformative after-school programs.

I see no reason why 21st CCLC cannot support traditional after-school programs, greater opportunities for summer learning and expanded school days that support the whole child -- academically, socially, emotionally and creatively. Leaders on all sides widely acknowledge that schools can't do it alone. I know no one in the research community who thinks that asking teachers to work another three hours a day is a formula for large-scale implementation and student success. We need to unlock the power of community educators to support schools in expanding learning time and opportunities.

Public investment should also support only programs and models that include the quality elements associated with student achievement gains and better results for kids. That rules out hodge-podge after-school programs with low attendance, come-and-go schedules, and activities that are neither sequenced and rigorous nor engaging for kids. It also rules out longer school days that deliver nothing but remediation to poor students, and none of the inspiration and motivation that flows through the arts, music, sports and hands-on science inquiry.

We should also look beyond 21st CCLC to support summer and school year expanded learning. If our goal is to create a scalable and sustainable system to educate the whole child, let's also look to the private sector to support and test innovative approaches, and to other agencies within local, state and federal government. These might include health, service-learning and workforce development as well as education.

We know what works: school-and-community partnerships that build on both pedagogical and youth development principles, and longer learning days delivered by teams of teachers and community educators. It's cost effective, and it's good for kids. The rest is just politics.