Stretching our thinking about scheduling

Gymnastics

I am thrilled that more schools around the country are beginning to create some real alternatives to the outmoded 8 a.m. – 3 p.m., five-days-a-week, nine-months-a-year schedules that still dominate public education.

Joanne Jacobs shared this report on one such program in Houston and support for a bill pending in the Texas legislature that aims at cutting the number of dropouts by making it easier for high school students who must work to stay in school. These programs are looking at evening hours, weekend classes, and other options.

Not only a wonderful idea for working or at-risk students, flexible schedules could benefit all students and many teachers.

Honor students, those perennial overachievers, looking for time to take more challenging classes would have more options. So would student athletes trying to study around inflexible game and practice schedules. Important and enriching extra-curricular activities in the fine arts, community service, and civic responsibility could find their way back into the lives of our young adults, without sacrificing the increasing demands of course requirements as high schools around the country realign their curriculum for better college and workplace preparation. Working parents, worrying about children home alone for several hours after school before their own workday ends, could select school schedules that are more convenient for the entire family.

Reworking student schedules could be a boon for teachers as well. One of the major struggles of teachers, rookies, and veterans is the lack of time built into our school schedules to do the types of preparation, mentoring, and collaboration necessary for highly effective instruction. Ironically, in several of the countries to which U.S. schools compare unfavorably in terms of student performance, teachers get a much larger portion of their workday set aside for preparation of lessons, review of teaching methods by and with colleagues, and mentoring of newer teachers (Japanese teachers, for example, get up to half a day). As a high school English teacher, I was given 55 minutes a day to do preparation for 100-150 students. Like many of my colleagues, I stole precious time from my own family — nights, weekends, holidays — throughout the school year to get everything done. Most elementary teachers I know get less than 30 minutes a day for preparation.

Of course, such benefits would depend on how wisely these schedules are designed and implemented. I can only hope policy makers will listen to teachers, students, and parents and involve them in the creation of these programs. Combined with the growing use of online courses and other technological advances, flexible schedules could represent another important step towards reinvigorating U.S. public education.

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