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Extended Learning vs. Extend Time
The Washington Teachers Union (WTU) recognizes the need for varied learning opportunities for our students in the District of Columbia. If we are to improve student outcomes on the whole, we should learn from effective and progressive education practices demonstrated both at home and abroad.
Most importantly, we must avoid the mistakes of others who believed adding more time to the current school day would yield improved student outcomes. According to the National Academy of Education, "A long line of research shows simply adding minutes to time spent in class on reading or on mathematics, or tacking on a few more days to the school calendar, have very little effect on student achievement."
Our work should be collaborative and focused on how we reinvent our students’ current learning opportunities to increase efficiency, productivity, and quality. We must look at how to structure the school day in a way that focuses on learning, rather than looking at the issue as simply about "time" and "money."
For example, in a successful extended learning pilot school in Massachusetts, teachers were able to work the same number of instructional hours. However, this extended learning system created more opportunities for teachers to collaborate and plan because they had community supports, an innovative schedule, and academic and enrichment programs. In just two years, student ELA and math achievement increased dramatically, teacher satisfaction improved, and the school developed broader student opportunities and stronger community partnerships. These are results we want to see in all D.C. Schools.
Teacher collaboration is a key element of successful professional development and necessary to ensure a high-quality teaching force. International research indicates that when teachers collaborate to share knowledge and to develop their skills and instructional strategies, students are likely to perform better. Rather than a few minutes of planning time each day or sitting through administrative PowerPoints, teachers need sufficient time to be engaged with ideas and colleagues as a significant part of the normal workday.
The teachers in the District of Columbia are committed to ensuring that their time is used most effectively to support improving student achievement. This does not mean extending the work time for teachers. In fact, extended learning is only possible with the support of the community. In order for teachers to have time to collectively review student work and to properly prepare, businesses, community leaders, parents, and volunteers can provide support during the second half of the school day through targeted programs that augment students’ learning.
Successful extended learning programs require a system-wide effort; simply adding on time to the current school day has diminishing returns. If our students are going to benefit from extended learning, we have to do it in a way that makes sense—in a way that works for the students. To do this, the teachers propose to immediately create community-wide study group to explore extended learning options and to create a plan for large-scale implementation in 2015-16. This proposal also provides for "early adopters," schools that could choose to try new community partnerships focused on extended learning as early as January 2015.