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Is It About Time?

Speaking of time, yet another new study (must be the season) found that snow days may actually hurt student learning (aka standardized test scores).

They found, for instance, that, in a year with five lost school days, which is the average number for Maryland, the number of 3rd graders who met state proficiency targets was 3 percent lower than in years with no school closings.

While that figure may seem low, the consequences for schools were pretty high. The researchers calculated that more than half the elementary schools that had been singled out by the state over the past three years for failing to make adequate progress would have been on target to pass if Mother Nature hadn’t interfered.

But the issue of losing school days to weather-related closings is just one part of the debate over time and learning in a school setting.

Over the decades, lots of politicians and education experts have called for students to spend more time in the classroom as one major key to raising achievement.

But what exactly does that expansion of the school day/year look like? There doesn’t seem to be much agreement on that.

The research is also pretty thin on what the best strategies might be for lengthening the amount of time that students spend in school:

Would achievement improve more with a longer school year or a longer school day? Is a block schedule more effective than a “double dose” of core academic classes for students struggling in a particular subject? What about after-school programs? Studies over the past 25 or 30 years have provided helpful clues to those questions but no definitive answers.

Time, in the form of a longer school day and Saturday studies, is one aspect of the highly lauded KIPP program and is cited as a major reason for improvement in the test scores of their students.

Is that the only reason? Is it even the most important one?

The schools, most of which are charter schools in low-income neighborhoods, have won accolades for the impressive test-score gains their students make. But evaluations of KIPP schools have yet to figure out just what the schools are doing right.

Is it the academic culture, the rigorous classwork, the strict discipline and character-building lessons, or simply the fact that KIPP students spend 62 percent more time in school than peers in regular schools? The KIPP school day is typically eight and a half hours long, although some of that time is spent in after-school programs.

“I’ve visited KIPP schools, and I think they’re doing just about everything right,” said John H. Bishop, an associate professor of human-resource studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. “Maybe the extra time makes it easier to do all those other things right, too.”

So, it’s not just about adding more time.

Improving student learning is about making better use of the relatively few hours we have with our students.

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1 Comment

  1. Lerrin Currie

    I would first like to start off and say that this was a good topic to discuss. I think that missing school does hurt students learning, however there is also a time and place for school to be dismissed, and if it were for a snow day, a break can sometimes be good for all students. In some cases it allows some to catch up on the things that they missed, and in some cases it allows those who have nothing to do, to relax, and get ready to go back to school. As for progress, spending more time in the classroom is key. So when students are at school, I think that it is beneficial to work within a block schedule. I know for myself, block scheduling seemed to make a major difference for my achievement. I felt that the longer I was in the classroom, the better I was able to understand what it was that we were talking about that day. Also, by doing block scheduling, many will find that teachers have more free time to help those students out who do not understand certain things in the classroom. So overall, I think that making changes in the amount of time in a school day is vital for student progress.

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