A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Prisoners of Time: Research - September 1994


On May 5, 1994, after two years of intensive study, the National Education Commission on Time and Learning (NECTL) issued its report, Prisioners of Time.
Time is the missing element in our great national debate about learning and the need for higher standards for all students. Our schools and the people involved with them--students, teachers, administrators, parents, and staff--are prisoners of time, captives of the school clock and calendar. We have been asking the impossible of our students--that they learn as much as their foreign peers while spending only half as much time in core academic subjects. The reform movement of the last decade is destined to founder unless it is harnessed to more time for learning.
As a result of its study, the Commission offered eight recommendations to the nation:

  1. Reinvent schools around learning, not time.

  2. Fix the design flaw. Use time in new and different ways.

  3. Establish an academic day.

  4. Keep schools open longer to meet the needs of children and communities.

  5. Give teachers the time they need.

  6. Invest in technology.

  7. Develop local action plans to transform schools.

  8. Share the responsibility. Finger pointing and evasion must end.

The purpose of this document is to respond to two equally vital matters central to the role of the Commission. The first is to provide a summary of the research reviewed and taken into account by Commission members as they developed the recommendations in Prisoners of Time. The second is to provide an agenda for further research into questions of educational practice, questions on which the Commission found little or inadequate information, but which urgently require answers if the ultimate goals of the Commission and Goals 2000 are to be achieved.

Chapters one through four reflect the first purpose: to summarize research findings considered by the Commission. These chapters review research regarding the Commission's substantive recommendations: (1) reclaim the academic day, (2) fix the design flaw, (3) keep schools open longer to meet the needs of children and communities, and (4) give teachers the professional time and opportunities they need to do their jobs. The limited amount of research available on the subject of technology, the Commission's recommendation number six, is included in chapter two of this document. The Commission's recommendations one, seven, and eight call for action and are therefore not covered in this review of the research.

The summary of key research findings in the first four chapters of this document is designed to provide those who are involved in reform initiatives with access to information about time and learning. Each week, the Commission staff received calls from individuals around the country asking what research has to say about a wide range of topics. The inquiries came from a variety of audiences including legislators, school board members, parents, teachers, the business community, and state department of education personnel. While the Commission did receive calls from researchers, most of the calls came from individuals outside the research community.

In the majority of cases, callers were considering making changes in schools or changes in policy that affected schools. They wanted to have as much information as possible to inform their decisions.

Some of the answers to their questions are provided in the Commission's report, Prisoners of Time. Although the Commission's report provides considerable information to support its conclusions and recommendations, it is not intended to be a summary of the extensive research and other information analyzed during its preparation. The Commission, therefore, asked for a report summarizing research findings on questions addressed during the course of its work.

It should be noted that the first four chapters do not reflect the full range of input gained from the numerous public hearings conducted throughout the country or the results of independent work by individual Commissioners. Unlike Prisoners of Time, this report was prepared primarily by the Commission staff and has not been reviewed and approved by all members of the Commission.

In contrast to Section I, Section II, "Agenda for Research: Unanswered Questions," outlines a number of critical questions asked by the Commission for which little or inadequate information was found. It returns to the four major concerns of the preceding chapters and suggests what more needs to be known about reclaiming the academic day, fixing the design flaw, keeping schools open longer, and giving teachers the time they need to do their jobs. It is the Commission's hope that appropriate agencies of the federal government, foundations, institutions of higher education, other organizations, and scholars will agree on the urgency and address them through research and development.

In an important sense, this document reflects the complexity of the problem of deciding exactly what to do to improve our schools. As the Commission learned, there are no simple recipes for improvement. However, there is much that can be learned from research as individual schools and districts craft plans for getting closer to where they want to be. Together with Prisoners of Time, this document provides a basis for individuals and groups throughout the nation to engage in a debate similar to that of the Commission, to decide individual by individual, organization by organization, what must be done to improve our schools.

[Commission Membership ] [Table of Contents] [Chapter One - Reclaim the Academic Day]