ERIC Identifier: ED474260
Publication Date: 2003-03-00
Author: Metzker, Bill
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Time and Learning. ERIC Digest.
Since the National Commission on Time and Learning released Prisoners of Time
in 1994, the use of time in school has come under increasing scrutiny. The
academic day, stated the commission, ought to be reengineered to include fewer
noninstructional activities and offer a minimum of 5.5 hours for core subject
teaching and even more to meet enhanced state standards (Kane 1994).
Over the years, educators have sought to enhance learning time through such
reforms as block scheduling and year-round schools. The 2001 No Child Left
Behind Act envisions efficient use of time as an avenue for improving learning.
This Digest summarizes the relationship between time and learning and
examines what states and districts across America are doing to make better use
of time during the school day. (See "School Calendars," by Bill Metzker, ERIC
Digest 156, for a discussion of issues surrounding length of the school year.)
HOW IS TIME USED DURING THE SCHOOL DAY?
School time can be
conceived as an inverted pyramid: Allocated time, on the upper, widest tier,
consists of the total time in the school day or school year; in the middle tier
is engaged time, or the time actually spent in learning activities (sometimes
called "time-on-task"); at the bottom, and therefore narrowest part of the
inverted pyramid, is academic learning time, or the period during which an
instructional activity correlates with a student's readiness to learn and
results in actual learning (Aronson and others 1999).
In addition to instruction in core academic subjects, the academic day
includes a variety of activities such as music, drama, and sports/physical
education. Many people argue these have inherent value in the education of youth
and should not be sacrificed.
Ineffective ways of managing the school day can reduce time for teaching,
according to a study of instructional time conducted on urban elementary
students in Chicago. Site-management as well as classroom-management factors
combined to diminish actual learning time. Teachers, on average, spent 23
percent of their time on noninstructional activities. Special days such as
Halloween Parties and Science Fairs reduced instructional time. The continuity
of teaching was lost when instruction focused on preparation for standardized
tests, which were administered midyear. Analysis and reform of administrative
practices may increase schools' ability to squeeze more learning time from the
day (Smith 2000).
IS MORE TIME THE ANSWER?
In schools where time is not being
used well, it is unlikely that the addition of more days to the school calendar
will lead to higher academic achievement by students. But if a high proportion
of the school day is already being devoted to academic learning time, that is,
time when the subject matter being taught is a good "fit" with the student's
ability and readiness level, and if high-caliber instruction is occurring,
extending the day or year is likely to improve achievement (Aronson and others).
Increasing learning time in that part of the day when students are most likely
to be engaged in the learning process may yield small gains.
Some people recommend structural changes in the use of time to slow down the
day, giving students opportunities for reflection and investigation. The
Responsive Classroom(r) model, for example, explores how the quality and
quantity of educational time may benefit both students and teachers.
This model incorporates several systemic changes: Narrow the scope of the
curriculum and lengthen time blocks for indepth learning; take time at the
beginning of the school year to establish clear expectations for students and
create an atmosphere of trust; allow time for contemplation and review
throughout the year; adjust the daily schedule so that it is more closely
aligned with students' learning patterns; ensure that playground time is both a
priority and useful; and design the school schedule so that parents, teachers,
and staff can interact often (Wood 2002).
ARE THERE OTHER WAYS TO INCREASE LEARNING TIME?
for student learning can be increased by ensuring that teachers are employing
effective classroom-management strategies, since undue time spent attending to
behavioral disruptions or other disciplinary issues reduces instructional time.
Consistently providing curriculum and instruction appropriate for the age and
ability of students also contributes to student learning. Finally, student
engagement and learning will tend to increase if teachers foster student
motivation through a repertoire of interesting, innovative, and
thought-provoking instructional endeavors rather than offering activities as
repetitive seatwork (WestEd 2001).
Opinions vary on whether block scheduling enhances learning. A popular reform
during the 1990s, block schedules offer ninety-minute instead of
forty-five-minute classes. While supporters assert that a longer class period
makes for better learning, a new study by Iowa State University suggests a link
between block schedules and declining scores on the ACT assessment test (Coeyman
One empirical study suggests that a shortened school year, with an added
intercession period for low-achieving students, may enhance overall student
achievement. Besides a general improvement, a positive impact was noted for
students identified as economically disadvantaged on state assessment tests
Time to learn doesn't necessarily stop at the end of the academic day. Given
the diversity of student learning abilities, policymakers must view achievement
as a complex issue rather than as a problem to be addressed with narrowly
focused solutions. Higher achieving students spend more time in structured
learning activities outside school. After-school hours, weekends, and summer
months all provide opportunities for additional learning to take place (CCSSO
2001). In particular, after school learning has been found to improve students'
sense of competence and classroom engagement (Grossman and others 2002).
Summer extended-learning programs that focus on economically disadvantaged
students in their earliest grades offer promise in closing the achievement gap
(Boss and Railsback 2002).
WHAT ARE STATES DOING?
All states except Minnesota require
a minimum number of school days per academic year. While some of these days may
be used for inservice training, all but four states require a minimum number of
teacher-pupil contact days. Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Oregon require a
minimum number of hours, depending on the grade level (Education Commission of
the States 2002).
Some states use extended-learning programs to add instructional time, though
some of these programs are primarily designed to provide a safe, structured
place for students to be after school if their parents or guardians are at work.
California's program promotes after-school community/school partnerships to
foster academic support along with safe places for students from kindergarten
through ninth grade. Illinois offers year-long extended learning with a summer
emphasis on low-achieving third- through sixth-grade students. Massachusetts
also provides funding to districts offering extended learning time to students
needing help with state assessment tests.
WestEd notes that a more cost-effective approach than increasing allocated
time statewide "may be to target extra time to specific schools-or students-with
the greatest learning needs. A state could stipulate a range of options for
using 'extra time' funds so that local educators can tailor strategies to
particular student or school needs or community circumstances."
For example, Kentucky boasts an intervention, as opposed to remedial,
initiative. Minnesota's enrichment program and Texas' extended-learning plan
focus on disadvantaged students and low-achieving districts (Brown 2001).
States "can also help by reviewing and streamlining state mandates that take
time away from teaching and learning as well as by providing school districts
with needed information and guidance about best practices" (WestEd). Oregon and
New Hampshire officials are examining infringements on instructional time, while
the state school board in North Carolina proposed eliminating three annual state
tests for similar reasons. New regulations in Massachusetts require a minimum of
900 to 990 hours of structured learning time (Black 2002).
WHAT FINANCIAL FACTORS SHOULD BE CONSIDERED?
The cost of
increasing allocated time on a statewide basis "is estimated at millions-or in
some states tens of millions-per added day" (WestEd). In California, for
example, the first year of a proposed thirty-day extension of the school year
for middle-schoolers was predicted to cost $100 million. Therefore, making
better use of time in the existing school year was suggested as a more viable
option than adding more days to the school calendar (California Legislative
Analyst's Office 2001).
A careful cost/benefit analysis of proposed calendar or schedule changes is
critical. Quantifying the cost per minute is one such method. By dividing the
total school budget by the number of minutes the school is open, a principal can
derive a per-minute value. With this figure, the cost in learning time of
specific activities-a thirty-minute assembly, for example-can be calculated.
Increases of learning time may likewise be evaluated (Slosson 2000).
Given the high cost of adding time and its uncertain relationship to enhanced
learning, schools must focus on maximizing student engagement and raising the
quality of teaching. The conceptual model of Total Quality Education (TQE)
recommends implementing certain student- centered elements in the classroom:
giving students personal responsibility for learning; ensuring that students
understand how the curriculum is beneficial; cultivating students' appreciation
of the learning process; teaching students to assess their own progress; and
helping students to set learning goals and understand how learning activities
are related (Walker and others 1998).
Teachers can benefit from professional development on improving time
management. The course content should be aligned with students' readiness for
the material. Teachers must know the subject matter well and see it through
their students' eyes in order to seize opportunities to better correlate content
with students' interests and experience (Aronson and others).
Aronson, Julie; Joy Zimmerman; and Lisa Carlos.
Improving Student Achievement by Extending School: Is it Just a Matter of Time?
San Francisco: WestEd, 1999. 21 pages. ED 435 127.
Black, Susan. "Time for Learning." American School Board Journal 189, 9
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Boss, Suzie, and Jennifer Railsback. Summer School Programs: A Look at the
Research, Implications for Practice, and Program Sampler. Portland: Northwest
Regional Educational Laboratory, September 2002. 45 pages. http://www.nwrel.org
Brown, Cynthia G. "Extended Learning: What Are the States Doing?" Principal
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Byrd, Jimmy K. "Student Achievement: Is Equality Really Necessary?" Paper
presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research
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California Legislative Analyst's Office. "Analysis of the 2001-02 Budget
Bill. Longer Middle School Year."
Coeyman, Marjorie. "Popular Reform Draws Mixed Reviews." Christian Science
Monitor (July 16, 2002): 13. http://www.csmonitor.com
Council of Chief State School Officers. Students Continually Learning: A
Report of Presentations, Student Voices and State Actions. Washington, D.C.:
Author, April 2001. 113 pages. ED 455 007.
Education Commission of the States. Scheduling/School Calendar. Denver,
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Kane, Cheryl. Prisoners of Time: Research. What We Know and What We Need To
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Slosson, James. "Mission Minutes: Balancing Cost & Value." High School
Magazine 7, 9 (May 2000): 37-39. EJ 606 493.
Smith, BetsAnn. "Quantity Matters: Annual Instruction Time in an Urban School
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Through Total Quality Education." ERS Spectrum 16, 3 (Summer 1998): 11-16. EJ
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Wood, Chip. "Changing the Pace of School: Slowing Down the Day To Improve the
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