Expanded Learning Time Benefits Vary, Can be Costly

A common refrain for improving student outcomes is to increase the amount of learning time at school. Two federal programs—School Improvement Grants and ESEA waivers—ask districts to implement Expanded Learning Time (ELT) in low-performing schools. However, a new report from the Center on Education Policy (CEP), which analyzed data from case studies of 17 low-performing schools in four states, reveals the difficulty in implementation from both the cost and logistics perspective and how the quality of the expanded time impacts results as much quantity. Overall, the report’s authors find that ELT can be useful, but schools need flexibility so they can customize the time to fit their students’ needs.


  • Case study schools are meeting the federal requirements to expand learning time, but ELT is costly, and the short-term nature of federal grants is causing difficulties for some schools.
  • State, district, and school leaders participating in these case studies often emphasized that improving the quality of instruction in low-performing schools was just as important as increasing the quantity of instructional time.
  • There was evidence of improved student outcomes in some, but not all, of the case study schools; however, several schools were in the early stages of ELT implementation at the time of the study.
  • Implementing ELT sometimes required negotiations with teachers’ unions about such issues as contractual time and compensation.
  • Teacher and student fatigue from longer school days was cited as a challenge in implementing ELT in all four states studied.

“CEP’s comprehensive study shows that local strategies to expand learning time are most effective when they focus on both students and teachers. Any effort to expand learning time should go hand in hand with a plan for improving the quality of instruction,” said Maria Ferguson, CEP Executive Director.

Read the report, Expanded Learning Time: A Summary of Findings from Case Studies in Four States, from the CEP.

Education Policy