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

The Uses of Time for Teaching and Learning - October 1996

III. Alternative Uses of Time and Student Learning

In the previous chapter, we focused on the effects of strategies to alter school-based educative time on teachers' work lives. Particularly in the public schools that we studied, the time-related innovations emerged from faculty experiences with site-based management or decisionmaking: given the unaccustomed authority to make curricular and instructional decisions for their schools, teachers chose time as one variable to manipulate. While some of the strategies selected (such as an increase in common planning or meeting time for teaching teams or whole faculty) may seem a step or two removed from students, in every case, the ultimate objective of reform activity was, nearly uniformly, improved educational outcomes for students.

This chapter is about students--the experiences that they have in the schools studied, the reasoning behind the experiences, and the results of those experiences. The original conceptual framework for our study of the uses of time for teaching and learning emphasized the interaction and co-dependence of quantity of time factors and quality of time factors in creating new, and hopefully fertile, educational environments. We argued that changes in the quantity of time (whether more or less) that students spend in educational settings will make little difference unless there is a concomitant change in what goes on during that time. The schools that we studied make essentially the same argument about measuring the impacts of their programs: they accept the reality of accountability systems that ask them for quantified evidence of student outcomes, but they often "count" their greatest achievements in terms of qualitatively estimated changes in student attitudes and behaviors. In the discussion that follows, we weigh both the objective and the subjective evidence that the schools offer as indicators of their effectiveness.

Our original hypothesis about the interrelationship of quantity and quality of time issues carried some implicit assumptions about improvement in the quality of educational time. These were rooted in au courant theories of reform that are being studied in more depth by other Studies of Education Reform projects. We expected that, to the extent that our case study sites were places that engaged students for more or less time than the norm for American schools and were successful, then they would also be variously committed to strategies emphasizing, for example, school-based management or decisionmaking; new approaches to curriculum, instruction, and assessment; research- based approaches to educating disadvantaged students; and/or extensive and creative uses of technology.

As we reach the end of our study of time, we are less certain that our original premise was correct. In a number of cases, (especially among the private schools), sites that we ultimately judge to be successful were largely unfamiliar with the reform "movements" that consume the policy world. They made their decisions and formulated their programs based on experience and common sense about students' developmental needs, on their own institutional contexts, and on a shared set of values, but they did not do so because they were, for example, "doing" site-based management. Often, what went on in classrooms was quite conventional and certainly low-tech. Many math teachers were largely unfamiliar with the NCTM standards as a blueprint for reform in that subject area. It was relatively common, however, to find teachers engaged in curriculum development, often along interdisciplinary or thematic lines, with an emphasis on communication skills. We begin our analysis in this chapter with some observations about curriculum and instruction in the 14 sites.

Curriculum and Instruction

Factors related to the quantity and quality of instructional time were major criteria in selecting case study sites (see pages 10-11 of Volume III: Research Design and Method). In general, each site represents some unique combination of quantity and quality of time factors that distinguishes it from the "typical" American school serving students of the same ages or grades and from other schools in our sample. In the final analysis, however, no site substantially increased the quantity of classroom time for students and simultaneously addressed significant reform of curriculum and instruction in the classroom. Strategies affecting the quality of school time tended to occur within the traditional amount of time allocated to classroom instruction in a given jurisdiction. Where more instructional (or supervised) time was available, curriculum and instruction tended to be very conventional.

Amount of Time Allocated to Instruction and Related Activities

Exhibit III-1 summarizes the quantity of time variables that characterize the 14 sites investigated for this study. In terms of formal instructional time, the sites fall into three categories: (1) those offering a standard school day and year; (2) those that have added more time; and (3) those that require less time in the classroom on a daily or weekly basis. As the exhibit clearly demonstrates, the majority of the sites (nine of 14) operate on schedules and calendars that approximate the five-to-six hour academic school day and 175-80 day school year that are typical in the United States--a seemingly curious circumstance for a study that is explicitly focused on innovative (or at least different) uses of time. The explanation lies primarily in the last row of the Exhibit: seven of the nine schools offering standard academic school days and years augment contact time with students outside of normal classroom hours.

Exhibit III-1

  AMY (6-8) Beaver Island (dropouts) Chinquapin (7-12) Chiron (6-8) Concurrent Options (9-12) Girard College (1-12) Hollibrook (K-5) Metro High Sch. (9-12) New Orleans (K-6) Nativity Mission (6-8) Nativity Prep (5-8) Piney Woods (7-12)2 Timilty (6-8) Wheeler (K-5)
Standard amount of clasroom time (5-6 hours) . . .

. .

. . .
More classroom time

Late afternoon, evening

220 day year

Additional 1.5 hours/day
Less classroom time

Transportation time1

3 hours/day
4 days/week

Other added time
Residential Residential

Residential Extended day

Extended day summer camp Extended day summer camp Residential

1Students at Chiron spend part of each day at the school's homebase and part at community-based learning sites. The commute between these places shaves some time off the standard school day required by the district, although the amount of time lost is not large.

2Piney Woods Country Life School has an elementary school component that is non-residential. Its program is not included in our case study.

Extending Time Outside the Classroom

Among our sample of schools and programs, two structures are used to significantly extend learning time in settings where the time allocated to formal, classroom-based instruction is about average for the nation. These two strategies are residential schools and extended day programs.

Residential schools. The ultimate answer to maximizing the influence of educational or caretaking institutions on young lives is the residential program. In these settings, the formal academic program constitutes perhaps one-fourth to one-third of the total time available for "learning." Because they are living and learning communities, however, there are many additional opportunities beyond the classroom for adults to mentor, supervise, discipline, motivate, and enjoy being with students.

The tradition of sending young people to boarding school is strongest among two very disparate groups in the United States: expensive boarding schools have long been the preferred approach to schooling for many of America's elite families, but they also represent a strong tradition on a number of Indian reservations. Lesser known but just as established are several residential schools serving low income and primarily minority youth. Three schools that we visited--Chinquapin, Girard College, and the Piney Woods Country Life School--fall in this latter group. The Beaver Island Lighthouse School, also a residential program, serves mainly older teens from several counties in rural Michigan; all of them are at risk of school failure.

Despite significant differences among the purposes and programs of these four residential schools for economically or educationally disadvantaged youth, they share certain characteristics for structuring the non-classroom time of students. All students, for example, have assigned chores that contribute to the smooth operation of group living arrangements. There are study halls and designated times for doing homework, with assistance available. Physical activity is either required or strongly encouraged, as is participation in other kinds of extracurricular or club activities. Enforced "lights out" rules ensure that students--particularly the younger ones--get enough sleep and that all students are accounted for during the evening hours.

The residential schools vary considerably in policies and practices governing students' discretionary time. Television watching policies illustrate this point. Many studies drawing on nationally representative samples have documented that American children typically watch a great deal of television (NCES, 1993) and some reports have speculated that this fact contributes to their relatively poor showing in international comparisons of educational achievement (National Commission on Time and Learning, 1994). Two of the residential schools in particular have restrictive policies on television viewing because it interferes with their academic and developmental goals for students.

There are no televisions in the dorms at Chinquapin, and the prohibition on TV is made explicit to prospective students and their families. The policy is, in fact, a self-selection factor in the admissions process: potential students who cannot live without television will not be happy at the school. Beaver Island, on the other hand, makes use of its single television set for educational purposes and intends to increase its access to educational programming with a satellite link to the Public Broadcasting Service on the mainland. Students and staff at Beaver Island watch and discuss a national network news program after dinner each evening. Other television viewing (including selection of videotaped movies) is monitored by the staff since students are not allowed to be in the recreation room unless a staff member is present. Television watching policies appeared to be more relaxed at Piney Woods, where some students mentioned TV as a favorite weekend activity, and especially at Girard College where some students were observed watching late weekday afternoon shows in a student lounge, much as many live-at-home young people do.

There is some variability in the total amount of time spent at school among these four residential sites. Two of the schools (Chinquapin and Girard College) send all or most of their boarding students home on the weekends. This has always been the case at Chinquapin, where all enrolled students are from the same metropolitan area. Girard draws students from a somewhat wider geographic area and, until recent years, boarded them seven days per week. Now, however, as a cost-cutting measure, most students reluctantly leave campus on the weekends. Several Girard students indicated that they would prefer to remain at school since their weekend activities at home are often restricted by safety issues in their neighborhoods.

At the other two residential schools--Beaver Island and Piney Woods, weekends are part of the overall educational time available to program planners. Both schools use some weekend hours for formal educational purposes. Students at Beaver Island, for example, can earn additional high school credits for participation in academically-related Sunday evening classes on topics such as navigation or cost estimation for construction projects. Piney Woods operates some classes on Saturdays for students in academic difficulty. Participation in Sunday religious services is required at Piney Woods and optional at Beaver Island. Weekends also provide opportunities for cultural enrichment activities- -excursions, dinners with international themes, and talent shows, to name a few.

All of these weekend activities are things that students might experience with their families at one time or another. In group living situations like boarding schools and summer camps, the spectre of mischief in idle hours ensures daily structure, advance planning, and a full roster of events that the average family is unlikely to match. Assuming that most of the planned activities potentially serve some educative function, there seems to be little doubt that the boarding school experience adds significantly to total educational time. Based on our observations and interviews with students and staff at these four schools, we estimate that the typical student had no more than one to two hours per day of truly "free" time; most commonly, this time came just before dinner. Activities designed to build body, mind, and character consumed just about all the waking hours, with the day beginning as early as 6:00 a.m. for students at Piney Woods and with a 6:30 a.m. jog at Chinquapin. Yet we heard few complaints from students about how busy they were. They reserved their griping for particular rules and regulations that they found constraining.

Extended day programs. Three of the schools in our sample of 14 offered enrolled students additional activities after the regular school day ends. The most traditional of these--The After School Activities Program or ASAP at Hollibrook Elementary School--provides essentially free homework assistance and tutoring, athletics, dance, and computer classes for 1.5 hours on three days of the week. About 200 students (25 percent of a student body that is nearly 100 percent poor and Hispanic) attend regularly. The activities and classes have been supervised by volunteer teachers and parents--primarily teachers. At the time of our visit, however, the spirit of volunteerism was wearing thin. Through its school-based decisionmaking process, the school was considering a plan that would require every teacher to teach one afterschool enrichment class per week in exchange for one early release day. With no significant money available to run the afterschool enrichment program, this proposed strategy at least compensated teachers with time, which has an appeal.

The more comprehensive extended day programs that we visited are associated with two small, private Catholic schools--Nativity Mission School (established in 1971) and Nativity Preparatory School (established in 1990). Both schools serve male students in grades 6-8.2 The afterschool program at Nativity Mission Center (a settlement house) actually predated development of the school day academic program and serves a wider age range than the school. Public school students in grades 4 and 5 attend the Brother Lawrence Program where they receive homework assistance and participate in recreational activities. These boys represent the pool from which 15 or 20 are selected each year for the academic program. When the Nativity Mission School boys move on to high school, the Center continues to encourage them through an afterschool High School Support Program.

The parameters of the extended day program at Nativity Mission and the other schools that have adopted its approach are so comprehensive that the participating students are "at school" from early in the morning until 9:00 at night. From 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., they attend study hall (required if the student is in academic difficulty) or engage in recreational activities. There is a supper time break when many students go home, although some do not. Study hall resumes from 7:15 to 8:15, followed by more recreation until 9:00. Students are driven home in a van. By this time, they have spent nearly as much time at school as students in residential programs where "lights out" for this age group is 9:30 or 10:00 p.m.

All students do not attend the Nativities' extended day options every day, but they do so often enough that the additional time is a defining characteristic of "school" in their own minds and those of their families. One boy reported, "I haven't missed an evening study yet. At home, I can't do my homework; here, it's quiet." This observation was echoed by other students. At Nativity Prep, attendance at three evening study periods per week earns the student the right to participate in a purely social Friday evening at the school.

At least partially through their long hours of operation, both Nativity Mission (the original model) and Nativity Prep have succeeded in creating safe havens and in establishing strong, personal connections between student and school. There are differences between them, however, in terms of their connectedness to other parts of students' lives. As a settlement house as well as a school, Nativity Mission is solidly rooted in its community. Adults from the neighborhood--including parents of students--flow comfortably in and out of the Nativity Center. Nativity Prep, on the other hand, draws students from a wider catchment area, making it more difficult for families to connect with the school themselves or to understand their child's attachment. A boy said, "My family thinks I'm crazy to go here at 7:00 p.m." Another noted, "My mother supported me at first, but now she's not sure because she never sees me."

Nativity Mission and Nativity Prep both also extend the educational year for most students through a summer camp experience. Nativity Prep does so through an arrangement with another program. Using a combination of private foundation and government funding, Nativity Mission has sent 50-60 middle school-age boys to an archdiocese-owned camp facility on Lake Placid in upper New York state for over three decades. High school-aged alumni of Nativity Mission School serve as junior counselors at the camp--one of the ways in which the school continues to support and encourage its graduates. The camp program focuses on academics (particularly English as a second language), athletics, and leadership training. It also serves as a screening process for selection of the entering 6th grade class at Nativity Mission School the following fall.

Added Time for Classroom Instruction

Only three of our sites provided students with additional time for formal instruction, and each did it in a different way and for different reasons. One site increased the number of days in the school year and two increased the length of the school day. Each site also differed in the degree to which more time in the classroom was accompanied by other kinds of reforms affecting what goes on in the classroom, as we shall see later in the chapter.

A longer school year. Largely based on invidious comparisons between the achievement of American students and their peers in other industrialized nations, much has been written in the past 10 or 12 years about the need to lengthen the typical U.S. school year.3 From a policy perspective, the decision to go to a longer school year rests with states and local districts. So far, no state has mandated a significantly expanded school year, and our efforts to locate local sites that had adopted this type of time-related innovation turned up only one recent experiment. By the time we actually collected data, even this experiment had ended. Thus, our case study of two year-round schools in New Orleans is historical.

From 1989-90 to 1991-92, Moton and Lockett Elementary Schools in New Orleans operated on a 220-day school year. All of the students served by both schools were (and are) poor and of African-American descent. Many of the children live in public housing projects, and generally speaking, the neighborhoods served by the schools are crime-infested and dangerous. The day before we arrived for our site visit, an infant had been killed by a stray bullet.

Discussion about moving to an extended school year began as a districtwide possibility in New Orleans. The focus narrowed to an experiment at two elementary schools for a variety of reasons (e.g., potential scheduling conflicts with athletics and students' jobs at the secondary school level; public resistance), but the primary barrier was money. Planners estimated that adding 40 days to the school year would cost $375,000 per school for salaries and operating expenses.

Despite the continuing reluctance of the New Orleans Parish School Board to embark on the extended year experiment, Moton and Lockett finally gained permission to proceed because of two circumstances: (1) strong support from parents, who viewed a longer school year as more days when their children would be in a safe, air conditioned environment for part of the day and (2) their eligibility for additional federal funds as schoolwide projects under the Chapter 1 program. Of the $750,000 needed to support 40 extra days in the two schools, 60 percent came from Chapter I and 40 percent from the local district budget (see the more extensive discussion of resources in Chapter IV).

This extended school year experiment lasted three years. It was popular with parents and moderately popular with faculty and other staff. While some fairly minimal qualitative changes in curriculum and instruction accompanied the added time (see next section), the primary innovation was simply more days in schools, and, as we will discuss later in this chapter, its impacts on student outcomes were mixed, at best. The demise of the experiment occurred primarily because of severe cuts in the local education budget. However, it might have survived if indicators of improved student achievement had been stronger.

More daily instructional time. Since 1986, Timilty Middle School in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston has offered all of its students a 7.5 hour school day, four days a week--1.5 hours longer than that of the typical district middle school. The added time is devoted to one extra period of math and one of reading on Monday through Thursday of each week; on Fridays, students attend school for 6 hours, allowing teachers a regularly scheduled time block for professional development and common planning. Over the course of a year, the longer school day for students yields the equivalent of 36 extra days of instruction over schools that follow the norm of 6-hour days.

The instructional time added by Timilty's longer day is nearly equivalent to the extended year design at the two New Orleans schools described above--a difference of only four days per year. As a reform strategy, however, Timilty's approach may seem less radical than a 220-day year. Students have the same vacation schedule as other schools, including the long summer break. The added instructional time at Timilty has some associated costs for faculty and staff salaries (see Chapter IV), but they are not as great as keeping a building open when all the others in the district are closed. Finally, in addition to adding a significant quantity of instructional time for students, Timilty's plan has provided time for teachers to undertake a qualitative restructuring of curriculum and instruction. It is, therefore, a more comprehensive reform effort than that in New Orleans.

The third program in our group of case studies where additional classroom time is available to students is ConCurrent Options in New York City. This program is complex and attempts to meet many kinds of student needs through an array of alternative approaches to earning credits toward high school graduation. In some cases, participants in one or more of the options may spend less daily time in school than the average student. We have chosen to include it with the programs that add time because program leaders emphasized its particular utility for (1) immigrant students, who are slowed in earning credits at regular high schools by required enrollment in noncredit English language courses and (2) students who must take noncredit remedial courses because of low test scores. The "concurrent" in ConCurrent Options means that students may be enrolled in a regular high school for a normal school day and then add instructional time through a variety of mechanisms. The program is also designed for students whose life circumstances make it difficult for them to attend regular school. The availability of the instructional options allows thousands of New York City high school students to complete their diplomas more or less on time. Through this program, students may attend late afternoon, evening, or summer classes, contract to do independent study, take adult education or community college classes for high school credit, and/or participate in vocational or community-based training.

Less Time for Classroom Instruction

From the outset of this study, we have entertained the idea that educational innovations involving time might well include sites where students actually spend less time in school than the average student at a given level of schooling. In Exhibit III-1, we note that two of the schools in our sample fall into this category.

Metro High School, an alternative school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa has shortened the school day and the school week to meet the needs of its students, all of whom are in some sense at risk of not completing high school. Students attend classes for three hours per day (either in the morning or the afternoon, depending on their personal preference) from Monday through Thursday. Friday is reserved for faculty meetings, planning and preparation, and faculty visits to students' homes or places of work.

This lower dose of daily classtime at Metro means that students accumulate credits at a slower rate--about four units per semester rather than the more typical six or seven units in a mainstream school. The aim in regular schools is graduation in four years; at Metro, the expectation is that most students will take longer and that there is no stigma attached to the pace at which students progress.

Metro's approach to the amount of time that its students are expected to be at school and engaged in learning is reality-based and tested by 20 years of experience. For a wide variety of reasons, the students it serves could not handle the time configurations and requirements of mainstream high school. The reduction in daily time at school is a very significant factor in encouraging students to hang in for a real diploma rather than opting for an equivalency certificate. Without the more flexible time frame at Metro, most of its students would be dropouts.

At Chiron Middle School in Minneapolis, reduced instructional time is not a deliberate feature of the school's design. Rather, the fact that students spend somewhat less time in classrooms than their peers is an artifact of the school's community-based approach to education. Students experience part of their school time in classrooms at a "homebase" facility and the rest at one of the school's "learning sites," some of which are at a distance from homebase. Transportation between the educational venues cuts a modest amount of time out of the school day and year, although school staff believe that the loss is largely inconsequential.

2Nativity Mission School is the original model on which Nativity Preparatory Academy and several other replications around the country are based. The replications differ from the original in various ways, but all provide the extended day that drew our attention for this study. Our description and analysis in this section focuses on the original school.

3We examined the available literature on both extending the school year and adopting various configurations for year-round schooling (most of which do not actually add time to the school year for the typical student) at an early point in the study. Syntheses of our findings can be found in the following publications: [Adelman, Editor (1995); Funkhouser (1995)].

[Restructuring Time to Create Effective Learning: An Introduction to the Study Sites]  [Table of Contents]  [Alternative Uses of Time and Student Learning - Curriculum and Instruction: Strategies to Improve the Quality of Learning Time]