Let's start with the WHEN of school. We know that children who are younger will generally prefer to get up earlier in the day. Yet, most school districts start school for elementary school kids later than they do for teens. We know that it is nearly impossible to pry a teen out of bed at an early hour, yet many high schools start school in the wee hours. Adjusting this schedule doesn't cost any money, but it requires strong intent and coordination. The biggest issue for high schools is interscholastic sports. Many districts would need to coordinate their efforts to make a later school day a reality. This issue has been well documented, yet rarely acted upon by communities and school leaders.
Next, we need to examine the length of the school day. How long should a school day be for each age group? When do we reach the point of diminishing returns? There are a variety of findings and opinions for this topic. Once we agree upon how much time is enough time each day, there will be new discussions about what should be included in that time.
One issue of time that seems indisputable is "summer slide." This is the phenomenon that occurs for children in poorer communities. While their more affluent peers are enjoying stimulating activities in camps or with their parents, poor children are languishing, with little learning opportunities. They need the structure of the school environment just to prevent the loss of what they gained in the previous school year. Many districts complain they can't afford to provide more schooling for their students. Yet, many urban districts have enormous per pupil resources that appear to be wasted on other things due to nasty politics. A place like Newark, New Jersey spends more per pupil than the tuition of the finest private schools in the country, yet has a graduation rate of only 67%. Districts don't want to lose money to charter schools, yet they seem unwilling to spend money to improve the results of the students still in the schools they operate.
A good model for transformation using time is Balsz, Arizona. This district increased proficiency by 43% in just a couple of years. We know that having students with us for 200 days a year instead of 180 will essentially eliminate "summer slide" and allow our lower achieving students to succeed. This type of incredible progress is also being seen in a few public districts and charter schools across the country. Yet, very few places are opting for this solution.
The use of time is our best weapon against poor student achievement. We can alter start times, increase daily time, and add days to our school calendar. Instead of thinking about what feels good to adults, we need to begin leveraging time for learning. It's about time we start investing in our children and make this a reality across the country.