December 21st, 2011
08:12 AM ET

My View: Time for a better future

Courtesy Bill Imbrognaby Jennifer Davis, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Jennifer Davis is the co-founder and president of the National Center on Time & Learning, which is dedicated to expanding learning time to improve student achievement and enable a well-rounded education. For twenty years she has held federal, state and local positions aimed at improving educational opportunities for children, including  serving as U.S. Department of Education Deputy Assistant Secretary . She can be followed on Twitter @expanding_time.

Common sense tells us that when it comes to learning, time matters. An individual simply cannot become more proficient in any given area without committing a certain amount of time to grasping  new content, practicing and honing skills, and then applying such knowledge and skills to realizing specific outcomes. Think of the chess master who plays match after match to improve his game, or the scientist who toils long hours in her laboratory to unlock the mysteries of an intricate scientific puzzle. For them, becoming more adept in their chosen field depends on the time they invest to know and do more.

The great irony is that our nation’s public schools have, by their adherence to the conventional calendar created a century ago to meet the needs of farms and factories (180 six-and-a-half-hour days), essentially disregarded the powerful connection between time and learning. We know that many parents who are financially able invest in their children’s education beyond school hours—whether it be programming in the arts, music, ballet, or tutoring. Low-income parents (and increasingly middle-income families) often lack the financial resources to provide additional learning opportunities outside of school.  

In this increasingly global economy, it is in our country’s best interest to give our children expanded opportunities for learning in order to prepare them for a complex future. Our students need time both to master the basics and to engage in subjects—from science to foreign languages to art and technology—that pique their interests and encourage a love for continuous learning. We need to teach our students what it means to be a leader, a collaborator, and presenter - all skills that are vital in the 21st century. Schools cannot develop these skills thoroughly in the time currently available. The traditional school calendar limits opportunities for the deep and broad learning students need to thrive.

Recent research shows that the quantity of instructional time is one of the most significant factors that accounts for variability in overall achievement levels (among schools). Likewise, it is no surprise that students in schools with more time regularly outperform their peers attending schools with traditional schedules. An expanded schedule raises achievement by giving students the opportunity to benefit from instruction tailored to meet their individual needs and to examine topics in greater depth. For example, the more than 100 schools located in 20 states that belong to the KIPP network of college preparatory charter schools typically operate with upwards of 1,700 annual instructional hours compared to the national average of 1,200. KIPP schools use their additional time to provide many more hours per year in academic classes and participate in a broad array of programming and community experiences that prepares students for college and a successful future.  Independent evaluations have shown that KIPP students consistently and significantly outperform their peers.

Expanded school time also enriches education by enabling schools to offer a broad array of learning opportunities, including subjects that have been squeezed out of the curriculum in the No Child Left Behind era. During the past decade, the time dedicated to science in American elementary schools has significantly decreased, leaving little time for the deep inquiry and engagement that we know is needed to cultivate the next generation of scientists and engineers. The arts also have been cut, impacting schools’ ability to build creativity into student learning.

Finally, teachers realize that the resource of time opens up opportunities for them to meet regularly for structured collaboration. This regular collaboration then empowers them to strengthen instructional practices together.

Across the country, a growing number of schools are seeking to expand—or have already expanded— learning time, using it to re-imagine, innovate, and strengthen American education. Many are doing it through creative use of resources in tight budgetary times. These schools have prioritized more time and use technology, school partners, and federal and state resources in new ways to meet student needs. In the highest performing state in the nation,Massachusetts, for example, the Expanded Learning Time Initiative has supported numerous schools, serving thousands of students across several districts. Each of these schools has added at least 300 hours to the school year to provide more core academics, enrichment, and teacher collaboration and professional development opportunities.

Of course, time is only a resource, not a strategy. It matters a great deal what schools do with the time to improve teaching and learning. However, in my experience, unless schools are provided the resource of additional time, they will be unable to bring their students to the levels of proficiency they will need to meet the demands of the 21st century.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jennifer Davis.

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Filed under: Policy • Practice • Voices
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Brittany

    I think this hit it right on the head! I have a strong passion for children of low and middle class families who simply cannot afford the additional resources that it is going to take to succeed in today's changing world. The fact the the majority of America's school systems are still operating off a the calender year that was constructed when the main objective was factory work says it all about where we are as a nation as far as education go. Sure the kids may not like the sound of longer school days, but if the curriculum can be geared towards their interests so that they actually ENJOY learning, then we could go a lot further. I am currently working on some things myself to get these exact opinions more into the minds of those who hold the power. This article should be presented to every school board around the nation.

    Great job.

    January 1, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  2. Sunny

    Have you thought about what you are saying? Really? NO art or gym in school... Is not going to solve the problem with education its only going to make things go down hill. Look outside your window the clothes that cover your body the food you eat the package its in, the showes you watch on TV. Do you really think that comes from no where? Well smart guy it started with in Art education that was provide by a Art teacher somewhere in the world.
    Oh and lets take gym out so that American can keep gaining weight and all of our children die of at a young age because of the fat that is covering their bodies. You need to spend a day at your local school and out what is really going.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  3. Hector Sanchez

    in my opinion all public schools should transform to a charter but all the lessons and teachings be on the computer and have the kids work on there own pace and have packets that they have to complete or something in the semester that there are in and cancel arts music and the gyms should just be a free recreational gym for anybody or you have to get a id to use it. and if the school system can just have one teacher for a whole month let say a math teacher and science and social studies and english and each student should pick whihc he/she wants to pick if one is full then they pick lets say english t ohurry up and get it over with for a 1 month just focusing in that subject till he finishes that quarter and charter school style which is at your own pace and students can just pick a class they want to focus on so for the people that pick math and finish the whole quarter because obviously they will finish it faster since they got a whole month and 4 hours of school to do it . school shouldn't be that long the extra classes make them longer if school was 8-12 there and how i explained they won't have to spend extra tax money George Bush's mistakes and on useless gym classes and art and language the school system acts like if we students can't play basketball after school at our own time or sports or learn a language optional because if we don't practice it then we will forget anyways they can save that tax money and do other things it should be a law that all schools have to do that and with the the extra tax money they should help all the teachers that wasted there time in arts school in college and language teaching and help them get another career . this is the best way to save money and to have a good and faster rate of kids and teenagers going to college and teachers should start making there lessons in the summer until the next school year starts they can finish it later they can put there whole lesson plan in the computer even and talk pictures of it and put it in the computer Abraham Lincoln home schooled him self and became president why do we have to make it complicated.

    December 22, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  4. Jose

    Sorry, but mass overpopulation means the future will be very bleak indeed.
    Nobody will do anything about it. Science cannot help either, not in reality.

    December 22, 2011 at 11:08 am |