The Power and Potential of Schools with More Time

This post, authored by Jennifer Davis, the Co-Founder and President of the National Center on Time & Learning, originally appeared on the Teach For America Blog, Pass the Chalk. 

Over the last few years we have seen a revolution in public education reform in America. One antiquated education structure that is undergoing dramatic change is the standard American school schedule of 180 six-and-a-half hour days.  The long summer breaks and short school days are not meeting the needs of today’s students—especially those living in poverty. Exciting new school models are emerging all over the country.
For example, the Orchard Gardens K – 8 School in Boston is in the midst of a remarkable turnaround. Established in 2003, the school suffered from seven years of dismal student performance. Then, two years ago, with a new principal, the infusion of new staff—recruited with the help of TFA—an expanded school schedule, and “turnaround” funding from the federal School Improvement Grant program, the school began experiencing a renaissance.  The teachers are talented, passionate, and relentless in their drive to transform their students’ education. Today the school can boast of rapidly rising student achievement, and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick recently singled the school out for praise during his speech at the Democratic National Convention.  
My organization, the National Center on Time & Learning, recently published a profile of Orchard Gardens to explore in depth how the school leveraged its longer day to drive higher student achievement and engagement. We learned that in addition to providing students more time on task in academic classes and much more time to participate in arts, music and other enrichment activities, the school re-vamped the teachers’ schedule to prioritize time for collaboration and data review. According to the staff, the collaboration model in place now has made a huge difference in the ways in which teaching and learning take place.  Veteran teacher Kellie Njenga explains: “We had common planning time in the past, but it happened infrequently, and the time was almost always spent on operational issues. Now, during the 100-minute meetings, the teacher leader always has an agenda and a clear objective.”
The result of having teachers collaborate consistently has been a remarkable shift in how the faculty commits to learning from each other and to continuously improving. Orchard Gardens is a great example of what schools with expanded time and time dedicated for teacher collaboration can do.  (For additional profiles of effective expanded-time schools that have strong models of teacher collaboration, see our study, Time Well Spent.)
In today’s typical school, however, extra time is too rare. A survey of teachers by Scholastic revealed that teachers spend a mere 3.4 percent of their time every day collaborating with peers, about 15 minutes per day.  In schools with a longer day, however, there are more opportunities for teachers to meet.  When Orchard Gardens added five hours per week to the teachers’ work week, for example, the administration reserved two periods for collaboration per week, a total of 100 minutes in focused sessions.  (In addition, the school built in 127 hours of professional development spread across the year.)
Orchard Gardens is part of a larger national movement to expand learning time to accelerate student achievement and offer students a well-rounded educational experience.  The Edwards Middle School, for example, also located in Boston, is another school that has greatly benefitted from both expanded learning time and Teach for America.  What both of these schools—and many more effective expanded-time schools around the country—show us, is that when it comes to generating real impact on teaching and learning, having more time opens doors of opportunity that would otherwise not exist