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School Management        < Previous        Next >


More Time in School Won't Help,

But Better Time Management Will


Q. I've 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 the evidence.


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 academics.


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 pronounced.


It's 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.


Homework: Read 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.


By Susan Darst Williams School Management 05 2008


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