Also called extended learning time, the term expanded learning time refers to any educational program or strategy intended to increase the amount of time students are learning, especially for the purposes of improving academic achievement and test scores, or reducing learning loss, learning gaps, and achievement gaps. For this reason, expanding learning time could be considered a de facto reform strategy, since expanding learning time is typically needed or proposed only when students are not performing or achieving at expected levels. (One exception would be optional learning-enrichment programs, which may increase the amount of time students are learning, but that may also viewed as elective or nonrequired opportunities for students to enhance or further their education.)
Expanding learning time throughout a state system of public education, or even within an individual district or school, can have complicated and far-reaching implications, which can give rise to criticism and debate. For example, expanding learning time may require significant changes in school operations, scheduling, and transportation, which can increase associated costs—from bus fuel, heating, and lighting to staffing, compensation, and benefits—and have a significant effect on school budgets, particularly during times when funding is being cut. And since teaching contracts typically stipulate the number of hours teachers are required or allowed to teach each week, extending the length of school days and years will usually have implications for collective-bargaining negotiations and contractual agreements.
Another source of debate is whether expanding learning time in public schools actually leads to improvements in student learning and academic achievement. If the additional time is not meaningfully, purposefully, or effectively utilized, schools may increase costs, complicate operations, and upset teachers and unions without realizing the desired benefits in student learning. In addition, while research studies have provided evidence that expanding learning time can lead to improvements in student learning and academic achievement, some observers have pointed out that some of the world’s highest-performing educational systems, notably Finland’s, have shorter school days and years than public schools in the United States, which suggests, in the view of some critics, that improving student achievement is more about quality than quantity.