A Case for Expanding the Definition of Expanded Learning Time to Include Supports Far Afield of the Classroom
By MARY ANNE SCHMITT-CAREY
At a recent convening in Denver by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, a range of nonprofit organizations and policymakers gathered to take the measure of more than a decade’s worth of work around the concept of extended learning time – including various efforts to lengthen the school day and school year.
Among those participating was our organization, Say Yes to Education. In the communities in which we work – including Buffalo and Syracuse in upstate New York, and Guilford County (Greensboro-High Point) in North Carolina – our local partnerships make available postsecondary tuition scholarships communitywide, and then leverage those and other incentives to ensure that the more than 130,000 students we serve have access to expanded learning time and other supports intended to remove predictable barriers to achievement.
Over nearly 30 years of work in the field, one lesson Say Yes has learned is that to be most effective, especially for students from low-income and other underrepresented backgrounds, additional time spent on learning must be systematically coupled with access to a menu of academic and non-academic support services – including medical and dental care; counseling and free legal clinics, particularly for those families who might be facing eviction.
Indeed, Say Yes would argue that the traditional definition of expanded learning time should be broadened so that it extends far beyond the classroom (and even the schoolhouse) door.
“You don’t learn as well if you’re hungry,” is how Nora Carr, the co-interim Superintendent of Schools in Guilford County, put it in an interview for a case study on the issue that Say Yes recently commissioned. “You don’t learn as well if your teeth hurt because they’re rotten and you haven’t been to a dentist.”
In our study – titled “Not Just About More Time: A Case For Stretching the Definition of Expanded Learning Time to Include Academic and Non-Academic Support Services, Especially for Low-Income Students” – the education journalist Lucy Hood writes that “wraparound services, in which a school, organization or an entire community effectively wraps a supportive arm around a child or family, are a relatively new addition to traditional practices of expanded learning, which originally referred to longer school days, longer school years and more creative use of classroom time.”
While noting that “experts in the field agree that more studies are needed,” Hood cites, as a promising example, the following figures from the organization Communities in Schools: of the nearly 160,000 students with whom it worked in the 2014-15 school year who received “tailor-made” interventions through on-site site coordinators working with teachers, counselors and partner organizations, 99 percent stayed in school; 85 percent met their academic goals, and the graduation rate was 93 percent. In Say Yes’ case, high school and college graduation rates for students in our early cohort chapters – ranging in size from 50 to 300 – were roughly double those of students from similar backgrounds in the same school districts who were not part of Say Yes. Since the launch of the community-wide Say Yes Buffalo partnership in 2012, high school graduation rates have increased 13 percentage points, to 61 percent, and college matriculation rates have increased 10 percentage points, to 67 percent.
As a supplement to our case study, and to put a human face on such efforts, Say Yes reached out to two former producers from NBC News and gave them a journalistic assignment of sorts: we asked them to make one short video each on the impact of academic and non-academic supports in the three partner communities referenced above, as well as in Philadelphia and Harlem in New York City. We are particularly grateful to the prominent broadcast journalist Jane Pauley, formerly of NBC’s “Today” program and currently of “Sunday Morning” on CBS, for literally lending her voice to those stories, as well as to the Ford Foundation for helping fund that work.
You can find the case study and videos here. The project includes a video depicting the powerful role of family support services in removing barriers to academic achievement in Buffalo and the efforts of school-based legal clinics to support families (and the learning process) in Syracuse The videographers also focused on “the ultimate field trip” – in this case to Africa – in Philadelphia; efforts to set classroom lessons to song in Guilford County, and the transformative impact of an after-school art project in Harlem.
We at Say Yes hope that such stories, when combined with the emerging evidence in the field, will influence the incorporation of academic and non-academic supports into the next iteration of efforts to expand and enhance classroom learning time.
Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey is the President of Say Yes to Education, a Lumina grantee since 2013. Say Yes is pleased to be a part of Lumina’s #TalentTuesdays, a concentrated media and press campaign posted every Tuesday that focuses on a different talent-related issue each week.