School & District Management

It’s Time to Rethink School Schedules, Report Says

By Brenda Iasevoli — February 27, 2017 2 min read
Image of a calendar, clock, and a red explanation point.

Much of a teacher’s day is devoted to instruction, with precious little time set aside for collaborating with colleagues, planning lessons or reflecting on practice, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress.

The authors of “Reimagining the School Day” point out that U.S. educators spend far more time teaching lessons and less time planning them than educators in other top-performing countries. In a typical work week, U.S. teachers spend about 27 hours delivering lessons, compared with their counterparts in Singapore, who teach 17 hours each week, or to teachers in Finland, who log 21 hours a week.

The authors cite a survey of 120 U.S. school districts that shows that just 45 minutes of a typical teacher’s 7.5-hour workday is dedicated to planning. What’s more, the authors say, teachers could benefit from observing each other, but there’s no time built into the school day to do such observations. Unless, that is, schools begin to rethink the school day.

The report highlights five schedules that aim to revamp how teachers spend a typical school day. All the schedules include more time for teachers to work together to plan lessons, flexible instruction blocks that allow teachers to tailor instruction to students’ particular needs, and opportunities for small-group instruction and student-directed learning.

One of the schedules highlighted comes from Guilmette Elementary School in Lawrence, Mass., where officials added more than 260 hours of instruction time to the school year. The longer school day allows grade teams time to get together and plan lessons.

For two hours on Fridays, teachers get training and time to plan lessons, while students participate in enrichment activities—dance, yoga, robotics, for instance—delivered by community partners.

The schedule overhaul seems to be working for the school, which is located within a struggling school district that was taken over by the state in 2011. According to the report, Guilmette’s ELA and math scores have risen steadily since the school revamped the daily schedule. But the improvements come at a price: Teachers get $2,500 extra each year to account for the longer day. The enrichment programs offered on Fridays also cost money, but the report says the school seeks out affordable community partners to deliver the programs.

To read about a school that provided teacher planning time at no extra cost, check out Stephen Sawchuk’s article on the Brooklyn Generation School. There, teachers instruct only three classes a day, get two hours of common planning each afternoon, and have a reduced student load—as few as 14 students per class. Yet the restructured scheduling costs no more to operate than a traditional schedule.

See Guilmette’s school schedule below. Check out the others, including two model schedules designed by teachers, here.

Guilmette Elementary School Schedule

Schedule Courtesy Center for American Progress

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.