Student Achievement

Smart Scheduling Puts Students’ Needs First

By Alyson Klein — February 25, 2020 3 min read
Students study math in the classroom at Josephine Wascher Elementary in Lafayette, Ore. The McMinnville (Oregon) School District has one of the best success rates in the state for helping students meet math standards.

David Naylor, the principal of Model Laboratory School at Eastern Kentucky University, heard the popular author Daniel Pink, speak at the Indiana Principals Association last year. And Naylor immediately decided that he needed to go back to the drawing board on his school’s schedule.

In his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Pink cites research from Mareike Wieth, a professor at Albion College in Wisconsin, and others explaining that when it comes to academic subjects, young children do their best learning first thing in the morning. Creative tasks, on the other hand, are better left until later in the afternoon, when the mind is less likely to stifle brainstorming.

“In elementary school, the earlier time is when your focus is going to be best,” Wieth said in an interview. That, she noted, is a great opportunity to work on math and reading. On the other hand, during the “nonoptimal time of day, the walls are much thinner, things go easily in and out.”

For younger children, that means the afternoon is a great time for “free writing, art class, music, anything where students have a little more leeway.” She said she hadn’t heard of a school putting that part of her research into practice.

But Naylor’s school has taken it to heart. Starting next school year, his students in kindergarten through 3rd grade will kick off their day with a 90-minute reading-fluency block—essentially the class that teaches them how to read. Right after that, they’ll have mathematics. The afternoon will be reserved for specials, like arts and music. A second session of English/language arts will take place in the afternoon, this time focused on writing, which Naylor sees as a more creative activity. Science and social studies are not part of the strategic scheduling.

Older students—4th through 6th graders—will have a flexible schedule. Teachers will discuss how much time they need each day to teach a particular subject. And students’ schedules will be tailored to their strengths and weaknesses—those struggling the most in a specific class may be assigned to it first thing in the morning, for instance.

Naylor is hoping that if the changes are successful, neighboring schools can learn from them, fulfilling part of the public laboratory school’s mission of putting research into practice. Even though it’s hard, he said, “you have to break the normal barriers of what a schedule has to look like.”

Academics in the Morning

Teachers are looking forward to the change. “The one thing that really beats us up is time—do we have enough time to be able to do what we need to do during the day?” said Mary Tom Emanuel, a 3rd grade teacher.

In elementary school, the earlier time is when your focus is going to be best.

Emanuel thinks the proposed schedule will help the school squeeze more learning out of each minute. And Pink’s conclusions jibe with what she’s already noticed about 3rd graders: Her students are much more open to learning first thing in the morning. “You’ve gotta strike while the iron is hot, you’ve gotta get them when they’re ready to perform,” she said.

Moving academics to the morning for the youngest students is nothing new. But while many schools report making it a priority, they say that there are limitations to how far they can take the approach.

For instance, the Hudson school district, in western Wisconsin, has been front-loading its literature block for its littlest learners—K-2—for years. And when possible, the district tries to make sure this group of students gets mathematics in the morning, too.

“When you’re talking about kindergarten and 1st grade, you get toward the end of the day, and they start getting tired,” said Nick Ouellette, the district’s superintendent. “Since we feel the most important thing we do as a school district is teach kids to read, we put the first thing first.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 26, 2020 edition of Education Week as Smart Scheduling Puts Students First

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Data Analyst
New York, NY, US
New Visions for Public Schools
Project Manager
United States
K12 Inc.
High School Permanent Substitute Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District
MS STEM Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District

Read Next

Student Achievement Inside the Effort to Find and Help Disengaged Youth
When in-person learning abruptly ended last spring, schools and community groups sprang into action.
7 min read
Kahlil Kuykendall, program manager with Crittenton Services of Greater Washington, stands for a portrait at the Anacostia Community Museum, in Washington D.C., on Dec. 8, 2020.
Kahlil Kuykendall has worked through Crittenton Services of Greater Washington this year to help keep low-income students academically focused.
Graeme Sloan for Education Week
Student Achievement Quiz Quiz Yourself: How Much Do You Know About Student Engagement and Motivation?
Quiz Yourself: How do incentives impact student engagement and motivation?
Student Achievement What Would a National Tutoring Program Look Like? Can We Afford It?
A "pay it forward" tutoring corps could reach thousands of students and cost $5 billion to $15 billion, a new blueprint concludes.
5 min read
Tutoring cost rising
Student Achievement Should Schools Be Giving So Many Failing Grades This Year?
As the pandemic rages, schools are seeing a parallel surge in the numbers of students with Ds and Fs.
12 min read
Image shows an illustration of a hand coming through a computer and grading a paper.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty