Educators Can Expand Learning Time without Breaking the Bank

by Antonio Parés

Who among us hasn't wished for more time in a day? Come on, we've all wished for it at one time or another. In education the concept of more time, especially for learning, is just as attractive. Yet, we haven't seen large-scale adoption of expanded learning time amongst schools and school districts.

More than Just Adding Time

Unfortunately, educators often believe, and it’s often the case that more time involves more money. Principals and district leaders assume that expanding the school day and school year will involve paying teachers more or hiring additional staff. I contend that shouldn’t be the expectation. Instead, as schools and school systems consider implementing expanded learning they should view it as an opportunity to break out of historical and outdated school structures, rethink their personnel systems, and innovatively expand learning time in their schools in a cost effective manner.

Rethinking the Basics of a School Schedule

Adding more learning time can be done in a cost neutral way, if we start to challenge some of our current assumptions about basic school structures. Schools must be willing to think outside of the box. For example:

Why do staff days all have to start at 8:00am or conclude at 4:00pm?
Why must all of a school’s staff go on vacation at the same time?
Why do schools continue to stick to a semester system?

Rethinking and shifting these components of a school day or school year can accomplish expanded learning time in a cost effective fashion. For instance, Englewood School District in Colorado is aiming to expand their students’ school day. One option is staggering when the day starts and ends for their teachers. By asking half of their staff to work 7:30am - 3:30pm and the other half to work 8:30am - 4:30pm, Englewood can add an hour to their students’ school day without requiring teachers to work more.

In New York, Brooklyn Generation Academy has extended their school year by staggering teacher vacations. By having grade level teachers take their vacations at different times of the year the student calendar has grown to nearly 200 days, while teachers continue to work a 180-day year.

Back in Colorado, West Generation Academy in Denver has thrown out the traditional semester calendar and moved to a trimester system. West Generation students take English and math all three trimesters, every morning, for 90 minutes a day. Their electives are on an A-B schedule, for 50 minutes a day, and often change with the trimester. By implementing this schedule, West Generation Academy students receive substantially more time in their core courses and have the opportunity to take more and different electives than most of their district peers.

It is Possible

These schools and school systems have one thing in common - they implemented more learning time for students in a way that cost little to nothing extra. They have proven that expanded learning isn't just an exercise in adding more time, but instead an opportunity to break apart old structures, systems, and expectations and innovatively put them back together in a way that provides more learning time for students with little to no increase in their budgets.

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