Education: Days + Hours = Improvement

I wrote two days ago about an Expanded Learning Time pilot program in Massachusetts that has generated improved academic performance. Didn’t really think it would be time to harp on the same subject again, but …

Hawaii has passed a new law that guarantees 180 days per school year. (Our 50th state had the fiasco in 2009-2010 of furlough Fridays when state budget shortages sent teachers home at the end of the week and resulted in 163 days of instruction). Indiana and a large number of other states have been at that 180 number for years.

Big deal! Other countries around the world are at 190, 200, 220 days and more. They’re greatly exceeding the five-hour daily instructional average that Hawaii is also putting into law and others undoubtedly are following. And those countries are somehow ending up with better test scores than their U.S. counterparts in international comparisons.

Let’s review. More days in school plus more time on task each day helps equal better results. Sounds like a basic elementary school equation.

Oh, by the way, in Hawaii, leaders indicate the next challenge is bargaining with teachers unions on how to implement the new requirements. Don’t get me started on that.

Read the Hawaii story if you wish; more importantly, speak up and support school reform efforts before more students pay the consequences.

Time Equals Results for Students

Reforms come in various shapes and sizes. For example:

  • Health care reform dominated the headlines in 2009 and early this year. No one is quite sure what we ended up with, although many in business are convinced it’s going to cost a lot of money and more and more John/Jane Q. Publics are not happy with what they’re learning about the government intrusion into their medical doings.
  • Local government reform in Indiana has stalled the last few years because a:) some Hoosiers like the way the system was set up in 1851; b:) politics is taking precedence over policy (imagine that!); c:) the people who prefer the status quo have spoken louder, or at least more effectively, than the proponents for change; or d:) some combination of all of the above.

Today. however, we’re talking education reform and it’s an area in which the overall results are sometimes mixed. (But then almost any reform is an improvement over a status quo that fails far too many young people). But the focus is spending more time on task; in Massachusetts, the official name is a rather straightforward Expanded Learning Time. And ELT is working.

The U.S. trails most other industrialized nations in school days. So Massachusetts has added 300 hours per year in select schools. Included among the results:

  • ELT schools gaining in test results at double the state average in English language arts and math; and at five times the state average in science
  • Broadened opportunities for students, including enrichment programming in a variety of subjects
  • Increased student demand. One Boston middle school went from underenrolled to a waiting list in three years
  • Higher teacher satisfaction
  • Stronger community partnerships

No, you can’t just keep the doors open longer. No one said it is easy. But it does seem to be one of the more common sense reforms that could yield positive results for students of all abilities. Yet, in the Indiana General Assembly, time is spent each session fighting off legislation that would actually shorten the school year.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that Indiana’s local government structure and school day calendar (to meet the needs of students who had to help out on the family farm) were set up around the same time. Both are in need of a serious update. We’ve got to start somewhere — for schools, that might be with more, not less, learning opportunities.

Read Massachusetts’ More Time for Learning: Promising Practices and Lessons Learned.