WE RECOMMEND that state and local boards work with schools to redesign education so that time becomes a factor supporting learning, not a boundary marking its limits.
The conviction that learning goals should be fixed and time a flexible resource opens up profound opportunities for change.
At a minimum, fixing the design flaw means recognizing that very young children enter school at very different levels of readiness. Some enter kindergarten already reading. Others readily manage computer programs appropriate to their age and skill levels. But some cannot recognize letters from the alphabet or identify numbers or pictures. Sadly, too many are already abused and neglected. School readiness is the basic foundation on which the rest of the school program is built.
Fixing the design flaw also makes possible radical change in the teaching and learning process. New uses of time should ensure that schools rely much less on the 51-minute period, after which teachers and students drop everything to rush off to the next class. Block scheduling-the use of two or more periods for extended exploration of complex topics or for science laboratories-should become more common. Providing a more flexible school day could also permit American schools to follow international practice-between classes students remain in the room and teachers come to them.
A more flexible time schedule is likely to encourage greater use of team teaching, in which groups of teachers, often from different disciplines, work together with students. Greater flexibility in the schedule will also make it easier for schools to take advantage of instructional resources in the community-workplaces, libraries, churches, and community youth groups-and to work effectively with emerging technologies.
Fixing the design flaw means that grouping children by age should become a thing of the past. It makes no more sense to put a computer-literate second grader in Introduction to Computers than it does to place a recent Hispanic immigrant in Introductory Spanish. Both should be placed at their level of accomplishment. Although the Commission does not believe 15-year olds should leave high school early, meeting high performance standards in key subjects should be the requirement for the high school diploma, not simply seat time or Carnegie units. In the case of genuinely exceptional students who meet these requirements while very young, schools should offer them the opportunity to take advanced courses.
Above all, fixing the flaw means that time should be adjusted to meet the individual needs of learners, rather than the administrative convenience of adults. The dimensions of time in the learning process extend far beyond whether one student needs more time and another can do with less. The flexible use of time can permit more individualized instruction.
We should not forget that students are like adults in many ways. Some are able to focus intensely on demanding materials for long periods; others need more frequent breaks. Many students, like many adults, learn best by reading; some learn best by listening; others, by doing, or even by talking amongst themselves. Offering more frequent breaks, providing more opportunities for hands-on learning, encouraging group work-these techniques and others can parole some of the students who today feel most confined by the school's rigid time demands.
All of these possibilities-and many others-lie within reach if the design flaw is fixed. All of them are much more difficult within the prison of time- bound education.
Reinvent Schools around Learning, Not Time. Establish an Academic Day.