Does More Time Equal Better Learning for All?

Jul 8, 2015

Does More Time Equal Better Learning for All?

New study profiles four communities using out-of-school time to boost equity, academics for students in low-income neighborhoods and low-performing schools

A new report highlights the challenges, successes and lessons learned from four community efforts – in Grand Rapids, Louisville, Memphis and Rochester – to create more and better learning time for students from low-income families or in low-performing schools.

Expanded Learning, Expanded Opportunity,” a report researched and released by America’s Promise Alliance and funded by the Ford Foundation, profiles collaborative community efforts to use out-of-school time to “reverse the fundamental inequity in learning opportunities that often magnify the disadvantages affecting lower-income students and their families.”

While each of the four communities has a different story to tell, the report distills six critical lessons.

Community collaboration is essential – and challenging. Many communities, the report notes, “still conduct their expanded learning opportunity work in silos, reducing the potential for synergies between schools and community providers and reducing the potential impact on schoolchildren.”

Instead, the report stresses, effective collaboration is essential and must include establishing and upholding quality standards, overcoming traditional turf issues, sharing data, and connecting out-of-school time programs in meaningful ways to academic needs.

Accurately assessing progress is a bottom-line issue that could be a matter of survival for expanded learning programs. None of the four communities studied has yet created a comprehensive system to measure the effectiveness of expanded learning programs, but all see the need.

“In an environment when many school and municipal budgets face cutbacks and competition for finite grant dollars has become more intense,” the report states, “the need for expanded learning opportunity programs to demonstrate positive return on investment is more critical than ever.”

Academic improvement is not the only important outcome for expanding out-of-school time. In Louisville and Grand Rapids, local experts say that increasing access to out-of-school time programs has reduced juvenile crime and interactions with police, which has helped build support from political and business leaders.

Academic progress may be paramount, but the report warns that it shouldn’t be the only measure of success. “Organizers shortchange children if these efforts fail to encompass children’s social-emotional development; help them develop ‘soft’ skills such as perseverance and teamwork that are essential to their success; engage them as motivated learners; and help them explore different ways of learning that complement and reinforce their classroom work.”

A well-designed effort to promote more and better learning requires cities to re-think a number of seemingly unrelated issues as well. Louisville’s experience illustrates the importance of transportation after school to connect students with programs.

“Delivering equity in access to learning opportunities means not only targeting populations with unequal access now,” the report states, “it also means seeing to it that children have safe routes to school and out-of-school-time activities, safe neighborhoods where they can take part in such programs, and strong local institutions.”

Expanded learning relates directly to college and career readiness, regardless of the age of the children involved. Out-of-school-time efforts can target college and career readiness if, for example, they help children read at grade level in third grade and improve their chances of staying in school when older.

“Communities should take a long-term view in designing their expanded learning opportunity initiatives,” the report advises, “giving as much consideration to programs that help younger students succeed as to high schoolers.”

Young people need to have a voice in designing expanded learning opportunities. “Students too often remain objects to be assessed and addressed rather than voices to be heard and active participants in program design,” the study notes. “If expanded learning opportunities are to be anything more than simply longer versions of traditional school days and routines, youth voice will be essential to the success of the effort.”

The report concludes with a strong statement on the importance of using out-of-school time to help achieve equity: “Expanded learning opportunity efforts that focus on education and ignore equity inadequately serve the children they are intended to help, even if they improve reading levels and math scores. Working to make learning better without doing more to address the gap in resources and opportunities for low-income children will fail to make the promise of America real for every child.”

To read the full report, click here.

For more information about America’s Promise Alliance, go to