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More Planning Time Urged for Front-Line School Reformers

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Would-be school reformers have paid scant attention to the need to give school personnel enough time to plan, implement, and refine improvement programs, according to a study released by the RAND Corporation last week.

The report, "Time for Reform,'' suggests that if schools want to restructure themselves successfully, they must insure that their staffs have sufficient time for the training needed to implement and sustain reforms.

The study is based on interviews with representatives of 41 bodies involved in school-level reform, including 15 school districts, 10 schools, 10 restructuring networks, and 16 unions, professional associations, state departments of education, and schools of education.

Lack of Awareness

Many of those interviewed complained about the lack of awareness of the demands that reforms place on school administrators' and teachers' time.

"Often no one in the district assesses what cumulative burden is being imposed at the school level,'' the report notes, "or even if the various departments are implementing programs that complement or conflict with each other.''

In addition, the RAND researchers write, when schools adopt reforms, they often fail to review their overall priorities, and as a result retain practices that are ineffective or unneccessary.

The need to set aside time for follow-up activities is also neglected, the report states. Schools often do not give teachers sufficient time to attend workshops, practice new teaching methods, or receive feedback on their progress, expecting them instead to find time during preparation periods, lunch, or after school.

More time is needed for reform efforts now than in the past, the study suggests, because many contemporary strategies, such as site-based management and interdisciplinary instruction, require greater teacher interaction and collaboration.

Would-be reformers also often neglect to provide time to teach school personnel the skills that are central to some reforms--such as facilitation, conflict resolution, and decisionmaking by consensus--or to teach them how to use new technologies.

Six Suggestions

The report offers schools six strategies for creating more time for reform, and analyzes each for feasibility, cost, and appropriateness. It suggests that schools:

  • Create more time within the existing school day by hiring substitutes or enlisting the aid of student-teachers or guest instructors from local universities.
  • Make better use of existing forums such as faculty or department meetings by cutting the amount of time spent on routine business, conducting these administrative matters instead through memoranda.
  • Promote more efficient use of time by reducing paperwork, making meetings shorter, and by adopting technologies such as electronic-mail systems that employees can use at their convenience to share problems and exchange ideas.
  • Recruit volunteers to perform administrative tasks such as hall and lunch duty to free up teachers' time.
  • Add a period to the daily school schedule by extending the school day or shortening class lengths, or accrue time for reform-related matters by cutting a few minutes from the school day over a period of weeks or months.
  • Increase the net amount of time available for reform by extending teachers' contracts or paying them stipends to attend workshops during weekends, evenings, or vacations.

Copies of the report are available for $4 each from the RAND Corporation, 1600 Main St., P.O. Box 2138, Santa Monica, Calif. 90407-2139; telephone (310) 393-0411, ext. 6686.

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