Time Doesn’t Have to Mean Money

Today's post is written by Antonio Parés, a School Design/Redesign consultant, who has worked with Denver Public Schools, Get Smart Schools, and Generation Schools Network to open innovative models in Denver's school turnaround networks. He is a graduate of CU Boulder, a Teach for America Alumni, and a former teacher at IDEA Public Schools. You can follow him on Twitter @antonio_pares

The momentum behind expanded learning time to improve student achievement continues to grow. Learning time is a resource that education leaders across the country are eager to maximize for students from high-poverty communities.  Unfortunately, we often believe, and it’s often the case that more time involves a tradeoff, and in the education sector that tradeoff is 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consider implementing expanded learning time they should view it as an opportunity to break out of historical and outdated school structures, rethink their personnel systems, and innovatively expand learning time for their students in a cost effective manner.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 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 basic 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’s 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’s 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.

These schools and school systems have one thing in common - they implemented more learning time for students in a way that costs little-to-nothing extra. They have proven that expanding 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.