Survey Offers Strategies for Unlocking Schools from Traditional Time Structure
- By Dian Schaffhauser
schools are running on the same time structure that has driven
education for decades: years that start in August or September and
end in May or June and days that begin around 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and end around
3 p.m. and are divided into 50- to 60-minute periods. Could a
shake-up of the school schedule lead to better learning outcomes?
That's the subject of a recent report produced for a project called
which serves as an online hub for resources related to time in
analysis in "Time
for Change? Findings from a Survey of Time Use in Schools"
used data collected from three sources: a survey of 3,758 schools
about how they structured student time; a survey of 4,155 school
staff members from 202 schools about how time is used in their
schools; and 155 "master" schedules over two to three years
from 52 schools, culled through implementation of Abl Master
Schedule, a software-as-a-service offered by Abl,
which also produced the Unlocking Time website.
than seven in 10 secondary schools (72 percent) still operate on a
traditional five-to-eight period bell schedule, and nearly nine in
10 (86 percent) elementary schools use the standard period or
homeroom schedule, in spite of schools' broader adoption of
personalized learning that could show better outcomes when there's
more flexibility in units of time and less emphasis on "seat
every school (99 percent) continues to give students the summer off
even though some research has suggested that "learning over the
course of the school year recedes over the summer," and that
"low-income students of color are more negatively affected by
'summer slide' than their more affluent counterparts."
three-quarters of classes (74 percent) are less than an hour long,
and just 18 percent of respondents said that they had at least some
classes arranged in 61-90-minute segments. Likewise, five percent of
schools used "rotating periods," shifting when specific
classes take place, and locking out students "who consistently
miss afternoon periods for sports."
is it so hard to change up the schedule in ways that could improve
student learning? As the report noted, for schools and districts,
there's a "perception that the tradeoffs and challenges to make
changes are too great. Typically changes to calendars or bell
schedules require years to navigate everything from analysis of the
logistics of change to gaining buy-in and support from educators and
families, not to mention approval from school boards. When faced with
many pressing priorities, district leaders may choose not to invest
the time, resources, and political capital in pursuing changes
related to calendars and schedules."
report offered numerous recommendations to overcome the hurdles posed
by changes in the school schedule. For campuses that run that
traditional bell schedule, for example, the researchers suggested:
of a "flex time period" to let students spend more time on
out the use of a "modified block," "rotating periods"
or a "flex schedule";
formative assessment to regroup students on a regular basis and
focus teaching on shared needs of smaller groups--even if class
periods can't be changed; and
trimester terms, to mix up the schedules and coursework more
school and district leaders interested in considering other models of
school scheduling, the report advised them to start with an audit, to
help them comprehend "how their schools are using time and
scheduling students to understand equity, access, and whether that
time is meeting the needs of all students." The report also
advised them to survey teachers and other instructional staff "about
how time is being used now to guide decision-making about changes to
report is openly available on
the Unlocking Time website.
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.