At the turn of the twentieth century it was common to plan life, including the school day and calendar, around the needs of farmers like Joshua. My grandmother Mamie had farm chores before she left for school in the morning and fieldwork once she returned home in the afternoon. The chores and the routine for school children like Mamie were not unusual. The fact that she attended and completed elementary and secondary school and then attended college was unusual, in fact it was extraordinary.
What is also extraordinary is that my granddaughter is on track to follow a similar school schedule as her great great grandmother – one hundred and eighty days, five days a week, five or six hours a day or thereabouts. Very little about the lives of today’s students resemble the children of 1900, yet we cling to this model of school time as if the very lives of children depend on it. In fact, the lives and futures of today’s students are more dependent on the need to understand and integrate flexibility into their learning experience, including the time allocated to schooling. It has been eighteen years since the U.S. Department of Education released the report “Prisoners of Time” and yet only limited progress has been made in achieving what the report encouraged, to make learning the constant and time the variable.
Advocacy for expanded learning time is often focused on the needs of struggling students to have additional instructional time to reach proficiency. Although it is true that schools need to engage in strategies to increase student achievement for all students, expanded learning time is not simply about allowing more time for teaching a targeted group of students; it is about structuring the institution for the twenty first century. It is about acknowledging that different disciplines need differentiated instructional time, it means that virtual classes and enrichment opportunities allow students in rural districts access to AP courses and any student in any district access to uncommon courses at different times of the day or week.
This is not simple about the old adage, practice makes perfect. “Drill and kill” is practice but it doesn’t come close to perfect and it is insufficient for really improving learning. The current school calendar limits the opportunity of many students to high quality instruction and enrichment experiences and stifles creative thinking on the part of policymakers and administrators about the way learning takes place in the twenty first century.
Changing the school calendar is not without its political and policy challenges, but extended learning practices in states like Massachusetts are demonstrating that it can be done with excellent results. Joshua’s children have left the fields. It is time for schools to do the same.
This blog and the ensuing commentaries are dedicated to the memory of Joshua and Missouri Calhoun and their awe-inspiring descendants who motivate me every day to continue the journey.Tweet