More Time in School Won't Help,
But Better Time
heard that schools are prone to "the leaky bucket" factor in time management:
what sounds like a really effective use of time up in the ivory towers of the
central office end up as a "wash" by the time those practices make it to the
classroom. It's because time is like a "leaky bucket" being passed along from
administrators to the classroom teachers. Every step in between the design of
the idea, and the actual delivery of the lesson, drains away a little more time
from actual instruction. Are schools doing a better job on time management and
trying to plug those leaks?
The research is
clear: you don't get better student achievement if you put kids in school for
more hours of the day, or more weeks of the year. There's no correlation
between expanded learning time, and additional learning quality. If our schools
moved to year-round calendars or longer school days, all it would do is add
tremendous additional costs, with a real possibility of a decline in student
learning because of the economics law of diminishing returns.
That's summed up nicely in the 2007
Brown (University) Center Report on American Education, which analyzed the
effect of time on learning, among other topics. So ideas like year-round
education and longer school days, though well-intentioned, are not supported by
Since the government's revelation in the 1990s that the average
student spends just 41% of his or her time in school working on core academics,
the problem of "mission bloat" in schools siphoning off precious instructional
time has been a hot topic.
Consider that, according to the U.S. Department of
Education, in 1870, the average American student spent 78 days in school, while
today, the average is 180+ days.
While students in other countries might spend more days in
school than ours do, it should be noted that often, they don't spend as many
hours per day as our students do. Then there's the whole set of problems that
comes adding more structured time in the day of a child or teenager, as we've
seen with the Japanese afterschools (or jukus,
sometimes called "cram schools"), such as stress and depression.
The obvious solution would be to force schools to drop a
lot of the time students and teachers spend in school on noninstructional
activities - to make better use of the time they already have to apply to
But those with a conservative or moderate political
orientation aren't saying that very loudly, probably because they don't realize
that more than half of each school day is given over to all kinds of other
activities - homeroom, assemblies, group guidance counseling, fund-raising,
etc. - rather than time in class learning core academics.
They also probably don't realize how many more demands
there are on teachers' time today than in past years, perhaps due most of all
to paperwork required because of the receipt of federal education revenues.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the 1980s, teachers in public
schools spent an average of one hour and 45 minutes a day working at school,
but not teaching. Instead, they were grading papers, preparing lesson plans,
doing record-keeping, attending staff meetings and inservices, tutoring
individual students, and so forth. By the mid-1990s, that had increased to two
hours and 18 minutes, and is no doubt even longer today.
A desire to win more instructional time for kids is behind
the national push for year-round schooling and longer school days, mostly by
those with left-wing political orientations such as the Center for
American Progress. Their rationale: social equity. It is clearly
demonstrated that disadvantaged students and those who are English Language
Learners don't have much
supervision or enriching, constructive activities available in the afternoons
and summers. So compared to middle- and upper-class students, their
out-of-school time isn't as productive, and their learning "regression" is more
equally clear from the data, from both here and abroad, that there is
absolutely no correlation between more time in school, and higher academic
achievement, with the possible exception of studies showing that a few more
minutes a day, say 10, spent on math instruction will pay rewards.
Longer school days,
longer school years, even year-round schooling: all are symptoms of an
underlying problem with the efficient and effective use of time in schools.
more about the use of time in elementary schools from this report, "Time Spent Teaching Core Academic
Subjects in Elementary Schools" from the National Center for Education
Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.