One educational reform concept that seems to popup up over and over again is the idea that students should spend more time in school. Sometimes the proposal is for a longer academic day, other times more days in the year, occasionally the proposal is to rearrange the current time available.
In his Class Struggle column this week, Jay Mathews sorts through his file of educational news clippings to look at examples of successful programs that involve students spending more time on their school work. The problem, however, is that more time also means more money, costs the public should be willing to pay.
Stealing this much time from students’ days is still rare in American public schools, which is too bad. Few people are actually against it. The benefits of increased time on task are well proven by educational research. Instead critics of the longer school day ask quite rightly, how are we going to pay for it?
Paying for the longer day may be a blocker but there are far larger problems than money with the simple idea of adding more time to a student’s academic year. Over the years that I’ve been teaching, the school districts I’ve worked for have added minutes to the day, days to the year, and shifted to longer class periods. I haven’t seen much improvement.
This, like other educational miracle cures, cannot exist in isolation. If all you do is stretch the same old structure for teaching and learning to fit a longer day/year, the money will be wasted. A good example of the failure of adjusting time is "block" scheduling.
In the early 90’s, the overly large school district for which I work rearranged our high school schedules. Students stopped attending classes for 50 minutes a day and started meeting for 95 minutes every other day. The move, of course, was accompanied by all kinds of promises for huge improvements in student learning.
But if you look in most of our high school classrooms today, you’ll see little change from a decade ago. For the most part, desks are still arranged in nice neat rows and teachers are often found in the front of the room performing some variation of the traditional lecture.
But the blame doesn’t fall entirely on the teachers. When the change was implemented, administrators provided little time to prepare for the new system and almost no training on how to make good use of the block. And there was no effort to alter curriculum or teaching methods to fit the new organization.
The assumption in making this reform – and in most other proposals to add time to the day – was that this change alone would lead to a big improvement of student learning. It won’t work. It ain’t that simple. Altering the time spent in school must be one part of a major overhaul to the way schools are organized and the way teachers work.