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With Larry Ferlazzo

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Education Opinion

Response: It’s About ‘Quality, Not Quantity, of School Time’

By Larry Ferlazzo — April 11, 2017 15 min read
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(This is the last post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

Should the school day and/or year be lengthened?

In Part One, Matthew A. Kraft, Barry Saide, Christine Brandt, Daniel R. Venables and Matt Renwick, shared their answers to that question. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Matthew, Barry and Christine on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Today, Elliot Y. Merenbloom, Barbara A. Kalina, Thomas R. Hoerr, Erik M. Francis, Andrew Miller, and Effuah Sam contribute their ideas. I’ve also included comments from readers.

Response From Elliot Y. Merenbloom & Barbara A. Kalina

Elliot Y. Merenbloom and Barbara A. Kalina, co-authors of two books on scheduling and instruction, are completing a scheduling manual for administrators:

Before answering the title question involving available time, we must determine the right question: How is available time used?

Increasing complexities in all aspects of education require more analytic than superficial and quick responses. The answer to the question of time begins with identification of student needs. Ultimately, those needs include the ability to compete in the world and fulfill personal potential. Tangential pressures enter into the equation such as working parents, child care needs, safe places for children to gather, and the nation’s concern about its educational position within the world. Often unstated, these issues remain influential.

National educational groups, state legislatures, and local school boards seek appropriate answers. Each answer, however, places demands on the school day and those who design schedules for school days. Consequently, administrators need solid understanding of the scheduling process.

Some seek to answer those needs through lengthening of the school day until logistics of child care, sports, other after-school activities, transportation, and teacher contracts are raised. Others suggest lengthening the school year. That suggestion raises questions about curriculum. Will it be expanded to include increased depth of concept understanding, diluted to be spread out over longer time, or reformed into a completely different structure? Will students receive more opportunities for exploratory or elective courses? Will increased time provide opportunities for increased professional collaboration and preparation?

Answers to the title question begin with the identification of how time is used within schedules as well as how instruction is delivered within the allotted course time. That answer starts by identifying essential learning critical to student understanding, which, in turn, becomes data for the school’s program of studies.

From the program of studies, each course or subject receives time allocation necessary to learn each subject’s essential learning. Schools and districts differ in the academic, exploratory, and intervention needs of their students. Some need more time in English/language arts, others in math, others in both or in another course important to their students and the culture of the community. Consequently, effective and equitable schedules vary among schools and districts.

Course and time identification initiate schedule formation. Elementary, middle, and high school require different schedules to meet the developmental needs of students. Further, each needs additional course times apart from their program of studies classes. Elementary schools need specific intervention and ELL times and opportunities for grade level teachers to meet as teams. Middle schools need intervention/enrichment times and require introductions to exploratory subjects, advisory periods, and common planning periods. High schools need opportunities for intervention, common planning time for subject areas, and career pathways.

Once allocated within an equitable and efficient schedule, the use of time comes to the forefront. Precious instructional time needs to occur from bell-to-bell with active student involvement.

As educational challenges arise, we seek more time as the answer. Time that often is not available or practical. Instead, let’s begin by asking the right question: Are we using our allocated time appropriately with a schedule that supports our essential learning goals, student needs, and community expectations and with instruction that delivers articulated, active forms of learning within that schedule? If no, stakeholder collaboration needs to analyze why not and seek to meet requirements within available time. If yes, we need reassurance for ourselves and our communities that additional time sought materializes for student not adult benefit.

Response From Thomas R. Hoerr

Thomas R. Hoerr is emeritus head of school for New City School in St. Louis, Mo. Tom founded, directed, and taught in the Washington University Nonprofit Management Program. He is the author of The Formative Five: Fostering Grit, Empathy, and Other Success Skills Every Student Needs (ASCD, 2016), Fostering Grit: How do I prepare my students for the real world? (ASCD, 2013), The Art of School Leadership (ASCD, 2005), and Becoming a Multiple Intelligences School (ASCD, 2000):

The answer to “Should the school day and/or year be lengthened?” is simple: yes and no. Of course, students need more school. They need to more fully master what is currently taught and they need to acquire new skills and understandings. A high school graduation rate of 82 percent in 2014—an all-time high—still shouts that too many students lack the necessary skills.

And it isn’t rosy for those who continue in school. In U.S. News, Allie Bidwell says, “Nationwide, about 20 percent of freshmen entering four-year colleges are placed into remedial English and mathematics courses. At community colleges, that number jumps to about 60 percent” July 3, 2014)

So YES, our students need a longer school year plus a more reasonable approach to the calendar and day. Why are vacations set on kids’ needs to work on farms, and high schools’ starting times based on when their afternoon sports are scheduled? Teenagers need to sleep later, and beginning school at 7:30am so the athletic competitions can start at 3:30 is crazy.

But here is where it gets challenging—NO. It doesn’t make sense to lengthen the time students are in school to simply offer more of the same. Will more frustration and failure increase the likelihood that the 18 percent who drop out will stay in school? What about the students who graduate by the skin of their teeth? Would more of the same in school grow that skin? Probably not.

On the other hand, if we used that additional time to prepare students for success in school and success in life, then absolutely it would be helpful. We must and revise curriculum and pedagogy. First, we should look at how we teach. Children (and adults) learn best when they are engaged and when they can build on successes, so why do we insist on providing such narrow pathways to learn? Not all students are strong linguistically or logically-mathematically, yet too often our curriculum and instruction only supports those who learn in these ways.

In “Frames of Mind” (1983), Howard Gardner showed that there are multiple ways to solve problems; in doing so, we use our multiple intelligences. As adults, we know this; we live this. Consider how often in our work - and our fun - we draw from our non-scholastic intelligences (spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, naturalist, or personal - intrapersonal and interpersonal). We should design curriculum and present instruction so that students can occasionally use various MI and learn through their strengths.

Second, we need to consider what we teach. As noted, students need to master the 3 Rs and they need to technologically savvy. But what about the success skills that truly determine who succeeds—however that success is defined? Beyond scholastics, students need to develop empathy, self-control, integrity, an appreciation for diversity, and grit. These are the life skills that every adult needs, and by failing to teach them, we fail our students. Scholastics should be the floor, not the ceiling of our aspirations for our students!

So yes and no. Our students need more time in school but they don’t need more of the same. We should teach students to succeed in life by helping them develop the success skills that they will need, whatever they do. And we should plan based on how students learn, not how we teach, and use MI as a way to reach every student. If these things were to happen, the extra time would be incredibly productive and relished by students and teachers!


Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Response From Erik M. Francis

Erik M. Francis, M.Ed., M.S., is the author of Now THAT’S a Good Question! How to Promote Cognitive Rigor Through Classroom Questioning, published by ASCD. He is also the owner and lead professional education specialist for Maverik Education LLC, providing professional development on teaching and learning that address the cognitive rigor of college and career ready standards. He also provides consultation on the development, implementation, and compliance of academic programs funded under policies and provisions the Every Students Succeeds Act (n.e. the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965):

Both the regularly scheduled school day and the regularly scheduled school year should be extended to provide students time not to learn more but rather delve deeper into the texts and topics they are reading and reviewing. It’s about quality of time, not quantity. How would we spending that extended learning time? Would we be teaching our students more skills and stuff or are we challenging students to think deeply and express and share how and why they can use what they have learned in different contexts? Use the time to provide students the opportunity to delve deeper into the texts and topics they are reading and reviewing and to also craft and share the depth and extent of their learning insightfully and in their own unique way.

Plus, if we are to truly prepare students to be postsecondary ready—particularly, job ready with skills, work ready with behavior, and career ready with extending and exploring professional options and opportunities—the time dedicated for schooling should reflect what they will encounter in the workforce.

Generally, the work day is based on an eight-hour day and a 40-hour week. Employees are also usually discouraged from working over those 40 hours because they would have to be paid overtime. Employees are also usually given two weeks off for vacation and an allotted amount of personal and professional days they can take off. What if we mirrored school time to the time management and operations and schools of the workforce? It will cost money, yes, but it will also most likely improve student performance because they were not be excessive time lapses between learning experiences. Perhaps schools can structure their years based on trimesters rather than semesters with a 9:1 or 9:2 week ratio of compulsory school attendance and vacation (9 weeks on:1-2 weeks off).

Response From Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller (@betamiller) is an instructional coach and educational consultant who focuses on project-based learning, assessment and student engagement. He is on the faculty for both ASCD and the Buck Institute for Education. He is the author Freedom to Fail and also writes regularly for Edutopia and ASCD:

While many schools have lengthened their school day or year, I think this is a distraction. What does this focus on? “More.” More instruction, more time with students, more time to learn. On its surface, there is nothing wrong with this. I advocate for more learning, but I think we can work smarter and reframe the issue. Instead of quantity, we need to focus on quality. Instead of more instructional time, we need to focus on quality of instructional time.

Not to be too negative, but if we simply add mediocre use of time; we still get more of the same - more mediocre instruction. Instead, I think instead of focusing on the question of “Should we lengthen the school day or year?” we should instead ask, “How are we using the school day and year?” and “How can we refine the way we use instructional time?” Great schools, and great teachers already do this. They reflect continuously, and commit to ongoing improvement to be the “best school in the universe.” So I call on all educators to reframe this debate from quantity to quality.

Response From Effuah Sam

Mrs. Effuah Sam has 15 plus years knowledge and experience in the education field at the university, high school and middle school levels. Sam currently serves as a Theatre Arts educator. In addition, she works on building strong teams and has formed several community partnerships centered on the performing arts and engaging youth for social change. With training in speech communication, theatre, and educational technology; she believes education is one of the greatest vehicles for change in our global times:

This is a question performing arts educators view both in the affirmative and negative for a lengthened school day and/or year; as the arts are EOC/G’s (equally obligatory curriculum/grades) too, and need to be included in the discussion.

Pro: Who wouldn’t want more time to create, perform, and perfect artistic works? You will not find many artistic specialists who would complain about additional time provided, in class, to work on master pieces, work on cross curricular skills, spark interest, and create future patrons of the arts. Our time is often cut short because it is not deemed as important of study, not essential skills, or critical to learning. Students are removed, required to attend ‘x’, or permitted to leave often at critical times in the artistic and instructional process.

Pro: It provides an opportunity for the school and local community to see the collaborative works created and final artistic products at different points in time. Artistic work is a progression and we look at the whole student, the day they enter and the day they leave there is notable growth. From the shy/timid beginner to the outgoing/performing advanced student, which takes time to develop; “lengthening” would allow for that growth process and essential skill development for the 21st Century learner.

Con: Many in the artistic community would argue they already spend additional time in after school rehearsals, practices, and/or performances which extend the school day and year by default. “Lengthening” could possibly mean even more time given the aforementioned, because there potentially could be further impacts given the additional time in the day for other subjects. Arts educators spend many hours, instilling their love and passion for the art to their students but, at what cost? In the “lengthening” argument one must consider work/life balance and the impact to the families of educators who are already away much of the time for contests, concerts, tournaments, recitals, exhibits, and competitions. The additional time they spend at school is time away from family and/or arranging care for family members in their absence which also is at a cost.

Con: Funding is an issue, where the arts have faced major cuts for consumables and other instructional materials that are often only good for one year and/or that require replenishing. Who will pay for the “lengthening” need for goods, or could it even mean an entire cut of a program because “materials cost too much”? A longer day/year means more funds to create quality programs that many districts do not have. Arts educators are often adept in finding funding sources, improvising, and adapting curriculum based on available materials, but a school day/year lengthened may pose greater challenges.

Con: Let’s be clear that often those assigned and/or placed in arts classes are not by student choice or design. Given the “lengthening” scenario, how does an educator effectively reach this student? They are not alone; it’s placements often of high numbers of students, with many artistic classes being the highest enrollments in the school. It becomes a challenge in classroom management and for the arts specialist in developing a quality program when dynamics of the room are not focused on developing artists and the variety of skills. Who would want to teach longer days/year given this dynamic?

Responses From Readers

Thanks to Elliot, Barbara, Thomas, Erik, Andrew, and Effuah, and to readers, for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.