Frequently Asked Questions
Research shows that giving students more time in classrooms will lead to more learning. Second, it shows that enrichment opportunities do correlate to better outcomes. Third, we know that within the current school schedule, there is not time to increase either class time or enrichment time, all while proficiency scores have tended to level off over the past few years. So, unless schools can add time for core academic classes and enrichment, achievement will likely stagnate.
Does adding substantially more time to the school day mean just “more of the same” and can’t schools get more learning time by managing classes more effectively?
No. More time enables better time. Consider the following example to illustrate how more time in classrooms enhances, not just increases, teaching and learning: In mathematics class, when students are learning about measurement, a teacher can explain a measuring technique and then break students into small groups where each group can construct a model house to apply the technique to a hands-on activity. Not only does the activity serve to reinforce the measuring technique students have been taught, it also enables children to work together towards a mutual solution, which promotes teamwork, a key 21st Century skill. In a shorter class, such group activities are much less feasible because setting up such a project, implementing it and reflecting on it could not be accomplished within the available time.
A longer school day also means the inclusion of enrichment classes that may reinforce content learned in core academic classes, but also engage students in learning within broader learning contexts.
It is possible that interference with other activities may occur, but there are ways to avoid such a situation. First, even adding more time to the school schedule, the school day will not generally extend beyond 4:30pm. The typical school day now ends at 3:20 PM. Second, and more important, schools are working hard to embed many “after-school” type activities – like musical instrument lessons, art and intramural sports teams – within the school day. In fact, a longer school day is a means to combine the best features of after-school programs (that is, learning that is based on true student interest and engagement) with the best of school (that is, an intentional focus on learning and development). There is also an opportunity to add additional time to the beginning of the school day by rethinking how the time at the beginning of the school day can be used more effectively.
American education is entering a time when what the school day and year look like and who teaches during that time may begin to look substantially different than it has up until now. Schools that expand learning time are at the forefront of reconsidering just what the school day should look like including moving beyond the age old practices of having one teacher in front of large number of students and students and teachers beginning and ending the day at the same time.
More and more schools around the nation are using shifts of teachers, partner organizations, and even technology to make a full school day that includes high quality academics, accelerated or remediation classes when necessary and a healthy dose of enrichment programming that helps to build a well-rounded education.
Perhaps the most promising approach to expanding learning time is to split teachers into different groups or shifts that start and end their days at different times or work different schedules across a year. These staggered shifts allow for more learning time for students while not necessarily adding any additional work time for teachers. For example, take a school that has two shifts of teachers that each work 7-hour days. If one shift starts at 8:00 a.m. and one starts at 9:00 a.m. then the student learning day is eight hours long even though the teacher work day is seven hours. Shifts of teachers are staggered across a day; students may have an eight-hour day while teachers have a seven hour day.
In addition to the traditional teachers, schools can use the additional time to bring in partners from local higher education institutions, community-based organizations or businesses to teach enrichment or apprentice-type courses. Not only do such partner staff diversify students’ learning experiences, the presence of additional (and non-traditional) staff offer children exposure to a broad array of individuals and a glimpse into future career opportunities.
When teachers’ work hours are extended, they are generally compensated for their additional time. The level of compensation varies by district, is decided in a manner consistent with all other salary decisions in that district, and follows the legal or collective bargaining requirements for the locality. It is important to note that often, the additional time teachers are at school is typically not occupied wholly by more teaching time. Rather, teachers have more opportunities to plan for classes and collaborate with colleagues.
Extending the school day offers much more than helping children to achieve proficiency on state assessments or to get better grades. It is about recognizing that if the next generation of Americans hopes to thrive in the modern economy, they will need a host of skills – communication, teamwork, problem solving and others – that children in the past may not have needed to get good jobs. Unfortunately, the school schedule that is in place today was designed originally to meet the needs of a nineteenth-century economy. While today’s curriculum has taken large steps forward to help students prepare for the jobs and responsibilities of modern society, the ability of schools to teach this curriculum has been hampered by the outdated schedule in which teachers are unable to teach all the material adequately. The result is that today’s students are not fully served by the schools that are supposed to be preparing them for a productive future. A longer school day will allow students the time to explore additional enrichment opportunities and will give teachers the additional time to plan for the implementation of the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.