Time and Space
In part two of our special series, "From Risk to Renewal: Charting a Course for Reform,'' Education Week is examining seven key areas where change must occur if reform is to succeed. In this second article in part two of the series, we examine the time-bound and time-conscious nature of schooling and the rigid use of building space. It is becoming increasingly apparent that such norms and conventions stifle educator creativity and student achievement. But some schools, at least, are discovering that there are alternatives.
Although students at the City Magnet School in Lowell, Mass., don't start off quite as early, their school day isn't conventional either. Mornings are spent learning the principles of publishing, economics, and government; in the afternoon, students put such skills into practice at their "jobs'' at mock newspapers, banks, and courthouses within the school.
Some 3,000 miles across the country in Chula Vista, Calif., students in an alternative program attend school for only two hours a day. They spend the rest of their week completing independent assignments and working at jobs. The "learning centers'' they attend are open year-round from 7 A.M. to 9:30 P.M.
These are the exceptions to the rule.
Each is trying to confront one of the most implacable barriers to school reform in the United States: the rigid use of time and space that affects teachers' working conditions, the kinds of projects that students can pursue, and the ties that schools have with their communities.
Ten years after A Nation at Risk recommended extending the length of the school day to seven hours, instituting a 200- to 220-day school year, and establishing 11-month contracts for teachers, most schools still use a 6 1/2 hour day and a 180-day year. And most teachers still work on a September-to-June calendar.
Moreover, the physical setup of the typical American classroom and school has changed little. The sight of a single teacher lecturing to 25 pupils in uniform rows of desks remains the norm.
However, a small but growing number of schools are re-examining the amount of time in the school year and, perhaps more importantly, questioning the unwritten rules that govern how schools use time and space, in some cases turning the traditional school day on its head.
Some schools have shifted to a year-round schedule. Others have extended their hours before and after school and into the weekend. Some schools have instituted flexible schedules for both students and teachers, with time set aside for large- and small-group instruction and for teacher planning.
In some instances, school buildings are being opened up to the community. In others, the use of space within schools is being reconfigured to make room for team teaching, peer coaching, and "schools within schools.''
"I happen to believe that time is the uncracked nut,'' said Milton Goldberg, the executive director of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning. "It's a prism through which we can look anew at teacher time, student motivation, and curriculum.''
Rethinking the School Day: An 'Absolutely Essential' Task
The standard academic calendar has its roots in the 19th century. The first compulsory-attendance law was enacted in Massachusetts in 1852 and required students to attend school for 12 weeks. With the rise of industrialism, the need for a more skilled workforce became more pronounced. By 1890, as a result, the average school year had increased to the current standard of about 36 weeks.
Currently, 32 states, the District of Columbia, and two territories require 180-day school years. Two states require more--Ohio's school year is 182 days, and Kansas' is 181--and the rest mandate 174 to 176 days.
State legislatures usually set minimum standards for school calendars. But as a briefing paper to the national commission created to study the use of time in schools has noted, schools and districts usually do not exceed the minimum required.
Nonetheless, rethinking the structure of the school day is "absolutely essential'' to address the demands on education in the 1990's, says Theodore R. Mitchell, the dean of the graduate school of education at the University of California at Los Angeles.
The previous emphasis on quantity over quality of instruction, he argues, "is why A Nation at Risk continues to be problematic, with its demands for harder, faster, and more of the same.''
In traditional, regimented school schedules, time has been the constant and learning the variable.
Each student is expected to spend roughly the same number of hours in school, complete the same number of courses, and attend school for the same number of years. But what students learn in school has been allowed to vary widely.
But more recently, says Gary D. Watts, the senior director of the National Education Association's National Center for Innovation, support has emerged for the notion that learning should be the constant, and time the variable.
"There's isn't a teacher in the world who won't say some kids may need three minutes [to learn something], some may need three hours, and some may need three days,'' he observes.
Proponents of a more student-centered approach believe that schools need more flexible structures to enable students to take as much or as little time as necessary to master their coursework and to give teachers more control over the time they need to prepare and teach their lessons.
Indeed, as the call goes out for all students to engage in higher-order thinking and to learn through hands-on activities and teamwork, the use of time and space in schools must be reconfigured.
Greater collaboration and decisionmaking among the adults in a school building, as well as the use of schools to train future teachers, conduct research, and serve broader societal needs, also cry out for a re-examination of how time and space are structured.
While actually translating these concepts into widespread practice could prove both tremendously expensive and a logistical nightmare, signs are emerging that the public is willing to accept a greater degree of variation in how schools organize their calendars and facilities.
In 1991, the annual Gallup Poll on education found that 51 percent of respondents endorsed a 210-day school year--the first time that a majority had supported a longer school year since the poll began including the question in 1981. Last year, the percentage favoring such a shift increased to 55 percent, and even larger majorities advocated keeping educational facilities open after school, on weekends, and during vacations.
Other indicators also suggest that the rethinking of how schools use time and space is gaining momentum as a central element in the restructuring movement:
- The federally sponsored National Education Commission on Time and Learning is compiling data on how schools across the country use time. Its report to Congress next year will include recommendations on the length of the school day and school year, the time allocated for various academic subjects, and how to make better use of the time available by improving student motivation.
- Many reform-minded projects and networks have sought to shatter the status quo of how time and space is apportioned within a school building. Several winners of the design competition sponsored by the RJR Nabisco Foundation, for example, have used their grant money to extend the school day or year, compensate teachers for additional professional-development time, or open their buildings to the community at nights and on weekends. And similar ideas permeate the blueprints for "break the mold'' schools now being developed by contractors with the New American Schools Development Corporation.
- A longer school day and year have been mentioned as possible elements in the blueprint for the Edison Project, the proposed network of 1,000 private, for-profit schools that the entrepreneur Christopher Whittle has set out to design.
- Researchers at the RAND Corporation recently interviewed more than 40 organizations involved in school-level reform and published recommendations for how to create more time in schools.
- Slightly more than 600,000 children in kindergarten through 8th grade were enrolled in 13,500 public school-based before-school and after-school programs in 1991, a study released last month by the U.S. Education Department reports.
- Some schools are reaching out to children and their families before age 5 and forming closer ties with community colleges and employers for teenage students to insure that youngsters start school ready to learn and leave school ready to enter the workforce or higher education.
Industrial Age Holdover
In 1914, George Bernard Shaw penned this diatribe against the enterprise of schooling: "There is, on the whole, nothing on earth intended for innocent people so horrible as a school. To begin with, it is a prison. But in some respects more cruel than a prison. In a prison, for instance, you are not forced to read books written by the warders and the governor ... and beaten or otherwise tormented if you cannot remember their utterly immemorable contents.''
While most educators would probably balk at Shaw's observations, the analogy is not without its grounding in reality.
In the traditional school day, students follow highly regimented schedules punctuated by buzzers or bells, and their movement is restricted as they go from one compartmentalized space to another.
Challenging these deeply ingrained orthodoxies can be a formidable task.
"I think that there is a sense that the school day is a part of some kind of natural law of the same symbolic weight as gravity,'' Mr. Mitchell, the U.C.L.A. dean, observes. "We have lived with the system for so long, and become so accustomed to it, that it's one of the basic identifying characteristics of the school, and when we attempt to change those basic underlying structures, we threaten people's familiarity with the very institution.''
The main problem with the traditional school day, he asserts, is that it was designed to meet the social goals of an earlier era. "It was built around an industrial model,'' he explains, "in which teaching children to respond to differential tasks by moving in an orderly fashion at different points according to a well-structured and fragmented day was precisely the type of schooling that was required by a society that was highly industrialized, mechanized, and routinized.''
Such a structure, however, no longer meets the needs of today's students. Our highly technological world both enables and demands a more flexible use of time in school.
But here's the rub: Introducing such changes runs smack up against the fact that the entire system of accountability in American education is itself anchored in seat time.
"Just about any student who logs enough time at a school desk will get his diploma,'' Edward B. Fiske, the former education editor of The New York Times, writes in his book, Smart Schools, Smart Kids. "What counts is not so much what you know as how fast you can deliver it.''
Similarly, he observes, teachers earn pay raises by accruing seniority, not by improving their performance. And states use student-attendance rates as a factor in calculating the amount of aid that each district receives.
'We Have Met the Enemy, And They Are Hours'
A retired administrator at a Long Island high school once kept a sign on his bulletin board that caused many of his colleagues to chuckle knowingly. It read, "We have met the enemy, and they are hours.''
At all points on the political spectrum, there is agreement that educators do not have enough time to do all that is expected of them.
"Teachers don't usually have time to go to the bathroom, so they don't have very much time to think,'' observes Joan Lipsitz, the education program officer at the Lilly Endowment in Indianapolis. "What has been called the 'dailiness' of teaching is so time-consuming that to find any time in the school day for reflection and planning and dreaming, asking questions like 'what if?' has been very difficult.''
Time for Professional Growth
Part of the problem, most every educator would agree, is that there has never been enough time for meaningful professional development in the schools in the first place. The prevailing belief that teachers are only working when they are standing in front of a room full of children makes the designation of time for staff development difficult.
In fact, schools often need the credibility of external organizations--such as joining a restructuring network or winning a foundation grant--to leverage enough resources from within for professional development or for other noninstructional time.
Carl Glickman--an education professor at the University of Georgia who coordinates the League of Professional Schools, a network of 60 restructuring schools in that state--says the teachers he works with often find it "easier [to get time off] to go to a conference 180 miles away ... than to spend time in their own districts to do that planning.''
Now, new demands on teachers--ranging from their participation in school-based decisionmaking to their role as curriculum writers and developers--are making the need for more and better training sorely felt.
Indeed, such noted educational scholars as John I. Goodlad have frequently suggested employing teachers year-round--not to be with students, but to engage in continued professional development and planning.
Proposals by many, including the Holmes Group, a coalition of education schools, to transform schools into "professional development'' sites akin to teaching hospitals--in which future educators are trained, university professors and classroom teachers collaborate on research, and innovations are constantly tested and refined--also emphasize the need for new configurations of time and space.
More To Teach, More To Do
Schools also need additional time to meet the increasing demands placed on them by a society that is undergoing profound changes in the workplace and within the family structure.
As more women have entered the workforce and single-parent families have become more commonplace, many schools are feeling the need to open their doors earlier and stay open later.
At the same time, because the basic amount of knowledge that students are expected to master has increased exponentially, the pressure on the existing school day is greater than ever.
There are more years of history to teach, more works of literature to read, and more mathematical theories to understand.
One indicator of the expanding curriculum can be seen in how textbooks have swelled in size over the past 10 years.
A typical 11th-grade American-history textbook from one of the major publishers, for example, has increased from 800 pages in 1983 to 1,100 pages in editions going to press this year.
"The books now weigh five to six pounds,'' observes Gilbert T. Sewall, the director of the American Textbook Council. For students to tote just one of these hefty tomes, he notes, is like carrying three quarts of milk.
Not only is the amount of information greater, but the kinds of skills that a well-educated graduate is expected to possess--such as computer literacy and higher-order math skills--have both changed and increased over time. The curriculum has expanded over the years to include other nonacademic subjects as well, such as sex education and driver's education.
Indeed, the ever-expanding nature of the "shopping mall'' high school, as many have come to call it, has led to a push to streamline and rethink the curriculum to emphasize a "less is more'' approach, a curriculum in which fewer subjects would be taught well.
Reforms Heighten Time Pressures
Finally, the reform movement itself is part of the problem. While prior reform efforts emphasized mandates from on high, the collaborative nature of the current restructuring movement requires much greater levels of participation from both teachers and administrators.
In schools that have implemented shared-decisionmaking councils, for example, the time of many teachers and community members, rather than just one principal, is now needed to set policy.
Changing pedagogical strategies places further demands on teachers. First, time is needed to learn the new skills; in addition, the techniques themselves are more time-consuming to execute than those they replace.
Planning lessons that actively engage children and teach problem-solving skills requires substantially more time than preparing a lecture. Similarly, portfolio assessments are considerably more time-consuming to conduct than standardized tests that can be scored by a computer.
Ironically, the more a school is engaged in reform, Mr. Watts of the N.E.A. observes, the more time becomes a problem for teachers, many of whom devote long unpaid hours to sustain restructuring efforts. "They're trying to maintain 'System A' while they're inventing 'System B,' and they're doing System B on their own backs,'' he says.
As the RAND Corporation's recent "Time for Reform'' report notes, "Unlike retail stores that display notices in the window proclaiming themselves closed for inventory, repairs, or remodeling, schools must continue to provide services for their customers.''
Opinions Vary for Remedying The Time and Space Dilemma
But while educators and policymakers may agree that schools cannot do all that is expected of them within the current structure of the school day, there is a wide range of opinions about how to respond to the problem. Some advocate extending the length of the school day or year; others think a greater emphasis should be placed on making more effective use of existing time.
In a widely cited 1990 cover story in The Atlantic magazine, Michael J. Barrett, a Massachusetts state senator who is also a member of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning, makes his case for lengthening the school year by citing the superior performance on standardized tests by students in countries with longer school years, such as Japan (240 days), then-West Germany (226 to 240 days), and Israel (216 days).
"The United States faces a time-in-school deficit every bit as serious as the trade deficit and the balance-of-payments problem,'' he writes. "Each year, American children receive hundreds of hours less school than many of their European or Asian mates, and the resulting harm promises to be cumulative and lasting.''
To back up his hypothesis, Mr. Barrett cites the data of such researchers as Herbert Walberg, an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In a review of over 100 studies of time and learning published since A Nation at Risk, Mr. Walberg found that increased classroom and homework time was correlated with moderate gains in academic achievement.
'How We Use the Time'
But others say many of the international comparisons are deceptive. A 1987 report of the International Association for the Evaluation of Education Achievement, for example, concluded that the length of the school year was unrelated to levels of achievement among 20 countries participating in an international math study. While Japan ranked first and the United States placed 14th in achievement, the United States actually devoted more school hours to math instruction--an average of 144 hours each year--than did Japan, with 101 hours annually. In addition, 11 of the 13 other nations that ranked higher than the United States also allotted less curricular time to math.
"Without other kinds of reform, the longer school year does not guarantee greater quality time on task,'' argues Curtis C. McKnight, a professor of mathematics at the University of Oklahoma at Norman, and co-author of the 1987 study. "The solution is not that simple. I think it has a lot more to do with how we use the time than how much time we have. ''
Mr. McKnight speculates that mandating longer school years without first examining these other questions will produce a Parkinson's Law effect: The existing work will expand to fill the time available for its completion.
Detractors of the comparisons of the United States and Japan also say they fail to take into account the impact of widespread ability grouping in the United States. In Japan, they note, classes are largely untracked, and students spend many hours outside of school studying at private "jukus,'' or cram schools. They also charge that such theories fail to explain why students in countries with shorter school years, such as Belgium, still outperform the United States.
Although Mr. Barrett acknowledges the need for changes in both the quality and quantity of instruction, he strongly believes that lengthening the school year is still necessary. He pictures an extended year as a "big tent,'' a larger superstructure within which schools could have greater scheduling flexibility.
"A number of things may go into the tent to make it a better place,'' he writes. "To accommodate them all and to arrange them in proper order requires the space the tent provides.''
Cost: The Critical Factor
In any case, because of the tremendous barrier posed by cost, the arguments for and against extending the school year may be moot. Time is money, as the cliché goes, and the adage is particularly true for schools. Schools, after all, tend to be more personnel-intensive than other institutions. On average, 85 percent of a district's budget is devoted to staff salaries, the Education Commission of the States reports.
Using an estimate of $27.45 for daily per-pupil costs, lengthening the school year to 210 days could cost an additional $33 billion a year, according to the N.E.A. and the National Association for Year Round Education. Total government spending on education is estimated to be $445 billion a year, so that action alone would require a 7.4 percent increase in education spending at a time when many states are cutting school aid.
Such cost barriers notwithstanding, a few states have already moved to increase the length of the school year. A reform act enacted last year in Oregon, for example, included a plan to lengthen the school year to 220 days by 2010. With Oregon schools currently facing a major budget crunch brought on, in large part, by a recently passed property-tax-limitation law, however, the fate of the plan remains unclear.
Recent proposals to lengthen the school year by 20 days in Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia, and Missouri have also been shelved because of a lack of funding.
More modest proposals have fared somewhat better. In 1991, Kansas passed legislation increasing the school year in incremental portions to reach 186 days by 1995, and Minnesota plans to add two days each year to reach 190 days by 1995. These two initiatives are more likely to be fully funded and implemented, according to Melodye Bush, an information specialist at the E.C.S.
'Moving Away From Cells and Bells'
Even though the total length of the school year is likely to remain the same for now, an increasing number of schools are changing how they use their existing time and space.
As Mr. Watts of the N.E.A. puts it, schools are "moving away from cells and bells.''
One approach gaining in popularity is year-round schooling, which is often confused with extended-year schooling. The overwhelming majority of year-round schools still use a 180-day calendar, but divide it into different segments, usually with the end result being that the long summer vacation is eliminated.
Slightly more than 2,000 public schools now use year-round schedules. Of those, only 21 also employ an extended-year schedule, defined as 205 or more days of instructional time.
The bulk of year-round programs were initiated because schools lacked the facilities needed to accommodate increasing enrollment, says Charles Ballinger, the executive director of the National Association for Year-Round Education.
In the districts that implemented "multi-track'' year-round education, such as Los Angeles and San Diego, the student body is divided into several groups. Each group attends school for 180 days a year, but not all groups are on campus at the same time.
But recently, Mr. Ballinger says, more schools have adopted year-round schedules as a way to curtail the "drop-off'' in learning that occurs when students are out of school for a long stretch of time.
The North Rock Creek, Okla., district converted its elementary school to the state's first year-round program last August, for example, after being convinced of the new calendar's educational benefits.
"A large part of our reasoning was that we wanted to cut down on the length of time these kids had on their own,'' Alisande Porter, the president of the district's board, says, adding that the community was easily sold on the notion that long summer breaks hamper the potential of the district's large contingent of Native American and disadvantaged students.
As for the extended year, Mr. Ballinger asserts that, until the economy improves, it will remain a local initiative. "California had a bill [to extend the calendar] introduced this year,'' he notes. "But it didn't go anywhere because [the state] can hardly pay for 180 days right now.''
Still, he contends, longer years are likely to become a more common feature in schools of the future. "The question is not whether it will happen, but when it will happen,'' he says. "I think we'll see quite a few more pilot schools over the next few years, and around the turn of the century ... I see the economy recovering enough to support some serious change in that direction.''
Although a longer school year may still be off on the horizon, other schools are already experimenting with longer days.
For instance, 35 percent of all children enrolled in before- or after-school programs are served at public schools, the Education Department's new study found.
In Murfreesboro, a city of about 50,000 located about 30 miles south of Nashville, the local schools have tossed aside the notion that school must start at 8 or 9 in the morning and end at 3 in the afternoon. Children may spend as many as 12 hours in school as a part of the district's extended-day program.
Parents can drop off their children as early as 6 at each of Murfreesboro's eight elementary schools. The youngsters "usually come in half asleep, and we take them into the gym and wake them up,'' says Peggy Bell, who directs the extended-day program at Northfield Elementary School, where she also has a full-time job as a guidance counselor.
Looking remarkably exuberant and energetic at this early hour, Ms. Bell describes the morning's activities as she gives a visitor a tour. Following some vigorous and playful exercise in the gymnasium, the children will head to the cafeteria for breakfast. Afterward, they play with building blocks, draw, or engage in other small-group activities until their regular school day begins at 7:45 A.M.
Later that day, a significantly larger group--about 280 to 300 students--will participate in the after-school portion of the program. Offerings here and at other schools in the district include hands-on science instruction, homework tutorials, private music lessons, art and foreign-language classes, and sports and recreational activities.
Providing services for children while their parents are at work should be a critical item on the agenda of American educators, says John Hodge Jones, the superintendent of the Murfreesboro schools and the chairman of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning.
"We must look at the total needs of children, the needs of the modern home, the needs of our labor force,'' he says.
About 2,000 children, just under half of the district's students, elect to participate in the program--a clear indication, Mr. Jones says, of the need for schools to offer such a service.
Parents in the community sing its praises. "I've been real high on the program,'' says Mike Pirtle, the managing editor of The Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, whose 4th-grade son is a regular participant. "If we didn't have [the extended-day program], I don't know what we would do.'
And despite the long hours, many students say they enjoy the program. "It's better than just being home and watching TV,'' says Joshua Robinson, a 6th grader at Mitchell-Neilson Elementary School.
Creative Use of People
Parents foot the bill for the majority of the program's costs--about $26 per week per child during the school year and $40 per week for a summer session that runs from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M.
The district is able to offer the program at a relatively low cost primarily because a substantial portion of the staff members are students at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, and they are paid only about $4.35 to $5 an hour.
Each of the eight program sites is overseen by an administrator or teacher, who earns an extra $9,000 a year on top of his or her regular salary. The staff is rounded out by full-time teachers--who take on the additional duties voluntarily for slightly lower pay per hour than they earn in the classroom--and by other licensed teachers who only want to work part time or who are in between jobs.
For the student staff members from Middle Tennessee State, most of whom plan to become teachers, the program is a valuable opportunity to learn positive discipline techniques, says Sue Bordine, the assistant principal and the program site director at Mitchell-Neilson Elementary.
"I've had student-teachers for 25 years, and [classroom management] is their number-one problem,'' she says. "The kids just carry you out the window your first year; they're so skilled at being difficult.'' In contrast, she says, the student-teachers who work at the extended-day program will be far more prepared when they enter the classroom.
A Two-Hour School Day
Another district that has pioneered an innovative school calendar is the Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista, Calif., just outside San Diego.
About 1,379 of the district's 28,500 students are enrolled in an alternative program in which they attend school for only two hours a day.
The program was created in 1986 to decrease the district's high dropout rate and, in particular, targeted students who had dropped out because of financial problems. It offers both a more personalized atmosphere and a flexible schedule that enables teenagers to work at a job, part time or full time, while completing their diplomas. For teenage parents, child care is also available while they are in class.
Students at the center attend school in groups of 20 for two-hour time slots, about half of which is spent working independently at computers on individualized assignments. Once a week, they meet one on one with their teacher for about an hour.
"We're trying to get to kids before they drop out,'' says Tom Williams, the district's director of alternative programs. "They take the same curriculum, but it's just delivered in a different way.''
In addition to their classes and jobs, students complete about 15 hours of independent-study assignments each week.
Students take two or three courses of their choice at a time, using as little or as much time as they need to complete them. Many find it easier to focus on completing one course credit every three weeks than to work on six credits simultaneously for a semester.
"You go at your own pace,'' remarks Beatriz Cendejas, an 18-year-old student who has been enrolled at the Sweetwater center since 1991. "It's a lot of work, [but] it's on you if you want to finish. You can go faster if you want.''
And thanks to the program's flexible schedule, Ms. Cendejas is able to spend several hours a day working at the Del Rey infant-care center, which in turn is helping her become better prepared to seek employment as a child-care specialist after she graduates.
Others praised the physical layout of the learning centers, which, with their conference tables and computer stations, are designed to look more like offices than traditional classrooms. All the teachers have telephones at their desks to facilitate communication with both students and their parents.
Since the program was instituted seven years ago, the district's annual dropout rate has declined from 9.9 percent to 4.1 percent.
"It seems that [most] schools are set up to fit students into institutions instead of saying, 'What do we have to do to meet the needs of kids?' '' Mr. Williams remarks.
The success of the learning centers, he maintains, is rooted in their flexibility. "We've shown [students] that schools and teachers can be human,'' he adds.
Toward Flexible Schedules
A variety of other, less revolutionary changes in how schools structure their day are under way elsewhere in the country.
The RAND Corporation's "Time for Reform'' report found that some schools are "banking'' time by starting 10 minutes earlier each day so that, over the course of a month, they can accumulate an extra day for teacher professional development and planning.
Others are exploring new avenues for assisting at-risk students or others who need extra time built into the day. Schools in San Diego County set aside time for tutorials rather than pull students out of their regular classes. And the Carl Sandburg Intermediate School in Alexandria, Va., a winner of an RJR Nabisco grant, has instituted a two-hour after-school program three days a week for at-risk students. Other schools are offering optional courses--such as computer or foreign-language instruction--before or after school.
Still other schools have chosen to break into the sacred ground of the weekend. Hull High School in Massachusetts conducts a "Saturday School'' for freshmen and sophomores in need of extra help on their homework.
And even schools that still operate on 8:30-to-3, Monday-through-Friday, 180-day calendars are experimenting within the confines of the traditional school day.
Many of the schools involved in the middle-grades restructuring movement, for example, have replaced the traditional 40- to 45-minute periods with a "block scheduling'' format.
At the C.C. Capshaw Middle School in Santa Fe, N.M., students are assigned to teams, each of which has between five and seven teachers--one in each of the core academic subject areas. Guidance counselors, administrators, and special-education or Chapter 1 representatives are also assigned to each team. Teachers on the same team share a common planning period and have control over how to use large blocks of their students' time each day, allowing them to vary the amount of time devoted to different lessons as needed.
Similar approaches have been used by many schools in the Coalition of Essential Schools, a reform-oriented network begun by Theodore R. Sizer, a professor of education at Brown University.
In his most recent book, Horace's School, Mr. Sizer outlines a master schedule for a hypothetical "Franklin High School'' based on his work with the coalition schools. It sets up roughly two-hour blocks for classes and groups students and teachers in "houses.'' A rotation plan allows classes to meet at different times of the day; the schedule also incorporates daily planning time for teachers, as well as opportunities for students to perform community service.
Requirements Hinder Progress
But as educational entrepreneurs have sought to reconfigure how the school day is used, their progress has been hindered by an extensive array of state requirements. Twenty-four states, for example, even mandate the number of minutes spent on math and science instruction each week in elementary and middle schools, according to the Council of Chief State School Officers.
"Realistically, you can say that many of the requirements fly in the face of common sense,'' Mr. Sizer argues. "Each one of us learns at different rates, and how many minutes doesn't tell us very much.''
The guiding principle behind such mandates, says Sophie Sa, the executive director of the Panasonic Foundation, is that schools can achieve educational equity by imposing equal requirements.
"There's a sense that people want to feel that they're getting the same, that equality means equity, and [thus having] the same number of hours means no department is being slighted or no student is being slighted,'' she muses.
But Ms. Sa and a growing number of educators contend that such approaches miss the point and that it's the actual outcomes of student performance that must be compared.
Likewise, whether a student is 15 or 16 or 19 "is irrelevant'' to the issue of what he or she should be studying at any given time, Mr. Sizer says. Rather than delineating exactly what courses a student should study at various grade levels or ages, he suggests, schools should concern themselves with defining what a well-educated student should know by the time he or she graduates.
he says. "It's much easier to say 'four years of English' than to define what English is.''
Different Spaces for Different Functions
As schools begin examining how they use time, they are also re-evaluating other aspects of their organization, such as how they use physical space.
At the City Magnet School, a middle school in Lowell, Mass., the school's adoption of a "microsociety'' curriculum 12 years ago led to a complete renovation of the school's facilities. Today, the school has numerous nontraditional spaces--among them a mock courtroom, a bank, a marketplace, and a newspaper office--where students learn about the "real world'' by running their own in-house versions of grown-up institutions.
The goal of the school, Principal Sue Ellen Hogan says, is for "children to become independent learners, to become more responsible for what they're doing and more engaged in what they're doing.''
Instead of the "chalk-talk model'' in which the teacher is always the authority, Ms. Hogan argues, "the children become authorities or reference points for each other,'' and teachers become coaches or facilitators.
"The microsociety schools are one example of how dramatically schools can change on the inside,'' observes Peter Samton, a partner in the New York City architectural firm of Gruzan Samton Steinglass.
But while a small number of innovative institutions are thriving, Mr. Samton cautions, the status quo has remained largely unchanged.
"Most architects are not aware of these questions,'' he says, "and they are dealing with school boards ... that are not willing to put it into concrete yet.'' One reason, he notes, is that they have been burned in the past for such reform failures as the open-classroom movement of the 1960's.
A handbook of model designs compiled by the school of architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology notes that the failure of the open-classroom experiments "has unfortunately resulted in a retrenchment in terms of school design, with schools of the 1980's being constructed in the most traditional of modes.''
What killed the open-education movement, Mr. Glickman of the University of Georgia argues, "was that schools were built without any walls but [also] without ... discussion about the serious principles of learning.''
In contrast, educators say, the current changes in education are not fleeting fads; instead, they say, they are part of a fundamental evolution that will require changes in how schools are designed.
Greater emphasis on collaborative work means schools need differentiated spaces within classrooms that will allow students to work together without disrupting other small groups.
Meanwhile, collaboration among teachers means schools will also have an increasing need for professional workspaces outside the classroom.
And, as the New Jersey Institute's manual notes, the more widespread use of technology not only requires changes in how school are wired, but also affects lighting levels and cooling systems. Most schools being built today--even in districts that do not yet possess an extensive array of computer equipment at the outset--are being wired with the assumption that computers will eventually be in every room, Mr. Samton says.
Another key factor in how schools use space is the fact that learning may not always take place at the school itself. "When we look at our own memorable learning experiences,'' Mr. Glickman observes, "those do not always occur within four walls and with 25 other people of the same age and with a teacher.''
More and more, education in the future may include such off-campus components as student internships, community-service programs, and instructional segments offered through such community institutions as museums and libraries. Technology can also serve as a window on the outside world by connecting students with information and opportunities far from their home communities.
Smaller Is Better
Changes are also afoot in how existing facilities use their physical resources. While few cities can afford to build many new and smaller schools right now, educators have become increasingly concerned that the impersonal nature of large urban schools has caused many students to fall through the cracks.
The nation's largest school system, the nearly one-million-student New York City district, plans to create at least 50 smaller, theme-oriented schools that would provide a "more personalized, caring environment'' for students. Efforts to create smaller "schools within schools'' are also under way in Philadelphia and Chicago.
In many cases, such schools break with the traditional notion that a school building and an educational program are one and the same. By creating smaller, autonomous units within existing school buildings, educators hope to create a more cohesive faculty and student body.
"This generation of reform is about community-building between administrators, teachers, parents, and students,'' says Michelle Fine, a consultant to the Pew Charitable Trusts' reform project.
The impact of the absence of stability in many large urban schools has often been underestimated, she continues. High staff turnover and low student morale often serve to nullify the impact of other reforms, such as lengthening the school year or extending the school day.
"Simply adding more time will not yield improvements in student outcomes if people don't feel committed to the community,'' Ms. Fine remarks.
Moreover, a recent report by the Public Education Association, an independent civic group, and the Architectural League of New York maintains that larger schools are more expensive in the long term because they require a disproportionately large management structure and incur higher security costs.
"No research evidence supports a claim that large schools ... achieve operational-cost scale efficiencies significant enough to justify their existence or to offset other related, educationally damaging inefficiencies,'' the report adds.
Paying Attention to Dewey's Call
As Ms. Sa at the Panasonic Foundation notes, many of the changes currently in vogue in the restructuring movement--such as creating longer blocks of time for classes or sending students out into the community to learn about "the real world''--are far from new. As early as the turn of the century, educators like John Dewey were touting many of these ideas.
In The School and Society, first published in 1899, Mr. Dewey decries the structure of the "ordinary schoolroom,'' with "its rows of ugly desks placed in geometrical order, crowded together so that there be as little moving room as possible, desks almost all of the same size with just space enough to hold books, pencils and papers ... it is all made 'for listening.' ''
Instead, he suggests, classrooms need places for children to work, to "construct, create, and actively inquire.''
Nearly 100 years later, it remains to be seen whether the majority of schools will be able to adopt and sustain significant changes in how they use time and space, given the political and economic climates in which they operate.
What is clear is that it will take a long time to rework the deeply rooted structure that characterizes schooling in America.
Many observers note that it is extremely difficult to change the culture of a school. "I don't think as a society we have an appreciation of the complexity of schools as organizations and the delicate nature of the teaching-learning exchange,'' Ms. Lipsitz of the Lilly Endowment observes. "I think if we did, we would know it takes a lot more time to grow a child than to grow a car or a drug or a building.''
Vol. 12, Issue 23, Pages 13-19