“Learning in America is a prisoner of time.”1 For more than a century schools have held time constant and let student learning vary. The unspoken rule in school is: learn what you can in the time we make available. Time is learning’s master because time is a factor that can be controlled from school to school. Unfortunately, we have been fooled into believing that schools can educate all students the same because all schools have the same amount of time–a school year of 180 six-hour days! But, experience, research and common sense all confirm that student learning is as different as each student and teacher are different.
The school is controlled by the dynamics of clock and calendar. Many school improvement efforts have been stymied because of the flawed assumption that learning can be doled out by the clock or defined by the calendar. A Journey to Excellence requires that we utilize time in new and different ways to support quality educational programs. There must be widespread acceptance that learning matters and that individual learning will be improved if we liberate schools to use time in new and creative ways.
The adoption of creative calendars that redesign the school year, providing release time for quality professional development, defining student achievement by establishing standards for student mastery learning instead of the seat time spent in a given grade or subject, establishing educational balance for all school programs and activities, and reallocating instructional time through modified schedules and new instructional strategies may be some of the ways that schools can begin to liberate student learning.
But time not only impacts school organization and curriculum delivery, it also influences how families organize their lives. Thus, transforming how the school uses time will require unprecedented transformation in how all people think about school.
1. Prisoners of Time (1994 April) Report of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning, U.S. Department of Education.