More and Better Learning Time: Closing the Opportunity Gap in Los Angeles

March 20, 2013

By Sanjiv Rao

There are two words that, when used wisely, can turn around a child’s education: More and Better.  In middle and upper income neighborhoods, parents and families spend countless after school hours shuttling to and from a variety of enrichment activities in order to provide both the ‘more’ and the ‘better’.  In low-income neighborhoods, when the school day ends, too often so does the learning.  Families in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty simply do not have the means, time, or access to ensure additional extracurricular learning time and opportunities for their children.  This opportunity gap, combined with schools that are already strapped for resources and stretched to their limits, leaves children woefully underprepared for success in school and beyond.

The Ford Foundation, in partnership with the California Community Foundation, has been supporting a number of organizations in creating More and Better Learning Time for children in Los Angeles.  For example, Belmont, Esteban Torres and Fremont High Schools are among the initial schools supported by the initiative.  They are working from the ground up to create the types of environments, schedules, and solutions that will keep students on track for success in school, work, and life, and their families and communities engaged in their education, learning, and healthy development.

Two promising approaches are taking hold in Los Angeles: community schools and Linked Learning.  In the community school model, community organizations partner with schools to design learning environments that expand learning time through engaging and enriching opportunities, and also provide a range of wraparound social services like mental health services and health screenings. This holistic approach offers not only more time to learn, but embeds high-quality youth development activities and services where they are most likely to be used.

Linked Learning is another approach where rigorous college preparatory classroom instruction is connected to real world professions so that all students can see the pathway from school to career through workplace-based learning opportunities.  Students experience first-hand how the lessons they are learning in school apply to the world of work, which supports not only content learning but also engagement and motivation.  In this way, Linked Learning dramatically expands the amount of student learning time while fundamentally redesigning the nature of student learning experiences.

The important take-away from More and Better Learning Time is that the solution is not one or the other.  ‘More’ learning time must focus on a wide range of ‘better’ opportunities, and ‘better’ learning requires ‘more’ time to make it so.  Closing opportunity gaps takes structural changes, such as more time, along with holistic approaches that include powerful community relationships and partners who come together to create engaging and challenging learning solutions to students who otherwise would not have access to them.

Our vision is that the ideas behind More and Better Learning Time are designed, implemented, and led locally so that communities can wrap their heads around the challenges, find the solutions that work best for them, and operationalize them sustainably.  That’s why the Ford Foundation is proud to partner with the California Community Foundation in supporting More and Better Learning Time in Los Angeles.  We are already seeing an impact here in L.A. with improved attendance and engaged communities that have a sense of belonging and ownership.  In short, expanded learning time schools are becoming anchors for families and changing the ways schools and community organizations work together to support young people.

The next step is to evolve these emerging proof points to inform how systems (districts and states) can support efforts in communities interested in adopting More and Better Learning Time approaches. This means creating policies and conditions for redesigned school days and years that enable schools and communities to provide coordinated, community-led, engaging, and rigorous learning time and opportunities for all students.

To find out more about More and Better Learning Time here in Los Angeles, please click here.

Sanjiv Rao is a Program Officer in the Educational Opportunity and Scholarship unit at the Ford Foundation.

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