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


Additional Structural Resources to Support Improvement

Thus far, our discussion of resources has focused not only on the straightforward issue of the costs of extending the school day and the school year but also on the much more complicated issue of garnering time for planning, implementation, and professional development. The case study data point to three additional structural resources essential to successful change efforts: (1) support in the policy arena resulting in reform activities and/or encouragement of experimental programs; (2) assignment of special staff as in-school resources; and (3) the support of teacher unions.

Reform Initiatives and Experimental Programs

A full examination of the contributions of various state and local reform initiatives to the time-related innovations in our sample of school is beyond the scope of this study. Nevertheless, our data do permit several observations about this relationship. Only one of the time-related innovations that attracted our attention, Timilty, was carried out to address a reform initiative or mandate, although the establishment of AMY was part of a larger school district desegregation effort. At five sites, including AMY, as well as Moton and Lockett, Hollibrook, Wheeler, and Concurrent Options, broader state and/or local initiatives either supported or legitimized reforms as changes that were already underway at the school level.

Within the context of these broad reform and policy initiatives, policies that foster, or at least do not inhibit, school autonomy are sources of support for time-related innovations. Staff in a number of the schools in our sample point to local policies related to site-based management and school-based authority for hiring staff as being particularly important.

The double-edged sword of site-based management. Metro has had almost full autonomy since the school established. AMY's original designation as an experimental school also ensured extensive autonomy in virtually all areas of decisionmaking. As AMY staff put it, "We had site- based management before site-based management was invented." At Wheeler and Hollibrook, adoption and implementation of site-based management strategies were key elements in the schools' reform efforts.

In each of these schools, autonomy to make decisions about curriculum, instruction, and, to some extent, assessment has, in effect, transformed time into a resource that is very much under the control of teachers and administrators. Indeed, many of the in decisions are either explicitly linked to time allocations (e.g., daily schedules, allocation of planning periods) or have direct implications for them (e.g., reforming curriculum, adopting team teaching or cooperative learning strategies), and almost all of the decisions enhance the quality of time for teaching and learning.

Teachers in these schools are justifiably proud of their accomplishments. They also recognize that learning to manage their schools has been achieved at some cost. It takes a considerable amount of time to learn how to work together to make decisions about teaching strategies, content, allocation of resources, and communicating with parents, to name but a few of the recurring responsibilities that teachers and others have assumed. Recall, for example, that one of the major themes in the professional development activities at Wheeler was site-based management strategies, including such topics as building consensus, communications skills, meeting management skills, problem solving skills, leadership skills, and developing conflict resolution. The range of this list suggests the scope of the learning task that confronts staffs who assume these new responsibilities. The governance tasks and the time it takes to learn them increase as the base of participation broadens. For example, the governance council at AMY includes six teachers, four parents, the principal, and a member of the nonteaching staff. For these groups to work together, they must learn to break down the boundaries created by differences in personal and professional roles and status and by differences in race and ethnicity. This process also involves learning the intricacies of district policies and procedures. And much of this takes place before getting to the task of governing.

Chiron's experience illustrates what can happen when school staffs do not have adequate time and resources to carry out the increased responsibilities that come with autonomy. Faced with the pressures of creating a new school as it was opening, a group of teachers with new assignments and new colleagues had to solve problems as they came up, with little or no opportunity for careful consideration or reflection. As a result, many of their early choices did not set precedents for later choices. Another result was that meetings and other opportunities for deliberation and planning were often unproductive, even in the short term, because teachers and the principal had not mastered the fundamental skills of working collaboratively.

Advantages of control over selecting staff. In one way or another, the role of the teachers in each of the public schools in our study represented a fundamental departure from the typical teacher role in their respective districts. For example, at Moton and Lockett and at Timilty, the amount of contact time required of teachers was much greater than it was for teachers in other schools in New Orleans and Boston. At Wheeler, Hollibrook, Metro, and AMY, team teaching, ungraded classrooms, and heightened responsibility for decisionmaking, to cite but three examples, created new roles for teachers and new, often higher, expectations for performance inside and outside of the classroom. As they looked back on the various innovations, faculty and administrators in each of these schools noted the importance of having either some choice over which teachers were assigned to the school or the option of a relatively easy transfer to another school if teachers wanted out. Timilty had both. When the school became a Project Promise School, faculty were given the option to transfer. A number of them took this option, citing the extra time at the end of the school day and the Saturday program as undesirable working conditions. Subsequently, the school received full authority for hiring new teachers. A faculty committee interviews all applicants and makes recommendations to the principal. One result of this process is that teachers are in the school because they want to be. The principal agrees and sees additional benefits: "I have never worked with such dedicated teachers, because they have bought into the program. Also, the self-esteem of the teachers is higher because they have been selected through a competitive process." Once again, it is important to note that exercising this responsibility takes time--time to review resumes, time to conduct interviews, and time to make decisions.

Special Staff

Quality of time reforms in at least three of the schools in our study, Timilty, Chiron, and Hollibrook, include the addition of special professional staff to assist in the reform effort. Of these, Timilty has the largest contingent, with six. Together, these staff members support the school's community outreach activities, continue developing new curricula, and facilitate classroom instruction. The six positions include a community outreach worker, an administrative support specialist, and four cluster leaders. The outreach professional oversees a number of special programs and helps teachers and other staff make daily telephone calls to parents whose children have attendance problems. The administrative support specialist oversees many of the school's efforts to find additional resources. The four cluster leaders are primarily responsible for leading instructional improvement activities, planning special programs such as internships and field trips, maintaining daily contact with parents, and serving as their cluster's link to the school's administrative team. Timilty is the only one of the Project Promise schools in which the cluster leaders had no classroom teaching responsibilities. These four positions represent a very large investment of the school's instructional resources--about 20 percent of the salaries for each cluster.

The rationale for creating the community outreach professional's role has a simple and straightforward time-related dimension: Effective outreach requires professionals who are free to communicate with parents, businesses, and community agencies during the day, when teachers are teaching. Timilty faculty and administrators agree that it is not reasonable to assume that this important function can be effectively carried out by teachers in their spare time. Similar cases can be made for the other special staff positions at the school.

After two years of hectic and often unproductive development efforts, Chiron employed a community curriculum coordinator to manage the development of the community-based resources, which were critical to implementing the overall design of the school. As at Timilty, this person completed tasks that teachers had been struggling with during out-of-school time and in addition to all of their other responsibilities. In 1992, as part of its overhaul of curriculum and instruction, Hollibrook was able to hire a full-time computer specialist as a resource for teachers. Teachers train in small groups, and sessions may last an entire day with substitute teachers covering classes.

In two of these three examples, hiring special professional staff was explicitly related to concerns about teachers' time. Teacher could not accomplish tasks that were central to achieving the schools' missions without sacrificing instructional time or without giving up some of their personal time after school, in the evenings, or on weekends. Ultimately, these schools found it more efficient and productive to establish some differentiated roles.

Union Support

In most large urban and suburban school districts, teachers' unions exert considerable influence in determining teachers' working conditions. Union contracts set teacher salaries and benefits, establish procedures through which teachers can be hired and fired, and define the number of hours in teachers' work days. A number of the time-related innovations in the schools we studied effectively altered school schedules, and, in several cases, ran counter to other provisions of existing union contracts. In these cases, the schools were able to negotiate special agreements with the unions that permitted the schools to continue with their new programs.

At AMY, a decision to reduce the number of preparation periods for teachers as part of a larger strategy to reduce class size required an agreement with the union. In addition, a key step in the hiring process for AMY is to discuss the school's experimental contract with prospective teachers to inform them of the expectations they will be expected to meet. AMY's contract modifications were hard-won in negotiations with the union. Now, union leaders praise the contract and acknowledge that sharing it with prospective teachers is an important part of the selection process. Nevertheless, future collective bargaining agreements could reduce or eliminate the school's relative autonomy in these areas, forcing a return to the standard districtwide number of preparation periods.

As a condition of Project Promise implementation, Timilty is exempt from some of the local union contract provisions. For example, the standard seniority rules do not apply in hiring decisions that are controlled at the school. At the time of our site visit to the school, several Timilty staff expressed the concern that the school might get caught in the crossfire if the district attempts to write into the contract a longer working day without extra pay. According to the teachers, compensation for the extended day at Timilty is the most important symbol of the district's commitment to high- quality education. As one faculty member put it: "Giving us the extra time and money to help our students learn says that the district values what teachers do and is willing to pay for it." Writing extra time into the contract without extra pay could draw he ire of the union, jeopardize Timilty's extended-day program, and undermine staff morale.

These special contractual agreements and several others that we learned about were essential to progress in the schools. In all cases, these agreements were exceptions to existing contracts and policies. In this way, the agreements highlighted the experimental nature of the programs, an attribute that may have kept them on the margins of reform-oriented policymaking in their respective districts. In short, defining these innovations as exceptions and experiments probably makes it more difficult for them to serve as examples or demonstrations for more widespread changes in the districts.

Garnering Resources: The Role of Entrepreneurship

In every case, the successes that the schools we studied have had are due, in part, to their entrepreneurial behavior. They have been effective at garnering most, although in some instances not all, of the resources they need. The challenges to the residential schools and to the two private day schools have been greater than those the public schools face, although declining public school budgets have posed problems in several of the districts in our sample.

Investing Time in Entrepreneurship

Although we can not provide detailed estimates in hours or days of the amount of time spent in seeking resources, it is clear that administrators and, in some schools, teachers spend a considerable amount of time on this task. Fundraising is particularly important and time-consuming for the private schools. Because the private schools we studied serve poor students, tuition is not a significant source of revenues, often accounting for less than 5 percent of the total annual budget. For example, at Chinquapin, tuition revenues are about $16,000, or 3 percent, of the annual budget of $564,000. A recent annual report from the school shows that 57 percent of the revenues came from individual donations, with the remainder coming from fundraisers and interest on investments. In each of the private, residential schools, working with governing boards, contacting potential donors, and arranging for fundraisers all take time and are recurring tasks. Staff at Nativity Mission estimate that these tasks are roughly equivalent to a half-time job.

Three other examples, from Chiron, Timilty, and Hollibrook, represent another kind of entrepreneurial task, that of obtaining nonmonetary resources from the community. At the heart of Chiron's philosophy of educating young adolescents is the belief that these students learn best when they draw on real-life experiences in real-life settings. To that end, the staff has created four learning sites in various locations in Minneapolis: (1) a state university site where students study science and the environment, (2) a site near one of the school's business partners, where students study business, government, and law, (3) a site near theaters and galleries where learning focuses on the visual and performing arts, and (4) a site located in the same facility as the arts site where the curriculum revolves around community service and technology. Staff at Timilty have also been aggressive in identifying resources in the community and linking the resources to various facets of the school program. There is, for example, a relationship with the Lesley College Collaborative which is a clinical model for faculty development to improve educational opportunities for faculty and students in urban middle schools. A partnership with a local hospital provides four programs for students, including (1) an opportunity for students to make connections between school and work by shadowing hospital employees once a week; (2) a science fair mentor program that links students interested in carrying out a science fair project with a mentor from the hospital staff; (3) a speakers' bureau with hospital staff available to talk with students about career options in health; and (4) a health and fitness program that contributes to the school's annual health fair.

Although Hollibrook has received a variety of resources to support its various innovations, none is more important that its network of parent volunteers. These volunteers, who work closely with the teachers, have been instrumental in keeping the after-school program alive. They have also made modest but important financial contributions to the program. Perhaps the most important benefit of the volunteer efforts has been improved relations between the school and the community.

These examples lead us to three observations about resources and entrepreneurial behavior. First, most of the schools we studied have been aggressive in seeking the resources they need to support their programs. Being aggressive means that they work hard to identify resources and that they are active in seeking these resources for their schools. Second, the entrepreneurial efforts are strategic. The schools seek the resources they need to support core elements of their program. For the private and residential schools, this effort often includes seeking funds for basic operating costs because these are never guaranteed. But for most of the schools, it involves seeking resources in their in their communities that are need to enhance student learning and, in some cases, teacher professional development.

The third observation is that entrepreneurial activities take time. Sources must be identified and nurtured. At Chinquapin, considerable time and a full-time administrative staff position are devoted to nurturing relationships with donors. At Chiron and Timilty, considerable time was spent identifying the schools' various partners and nurturing those relationships. The resources that become available may require additional work and development. Thus, at Chiron, identifying the four learning sites was one time-consuming task. Making them suitable for students and teachers was another time-consuming task.

Instability of Resources

One of the reasons why some of these schools must devote as much time and energy as they do to seeking resources is that their resource bases are not stable. The public schools, with the exception of the residential program on Beaver Island, have relatively stable bases of resources provided by their districts. At the same time, these schools are buffeted by district-wide financial pressures. They can and do suffer the results of budget shortfalls. We also found that funding for the time-related innovations in particular is uncertain. In Boston, Timilty and the other Project Promise schools were among the targets of district budget cuts. The principal was able to convince the district to restore the cuts by threatening to go to the press and reveal the decision to reduce funds to a highly effective school. The principal also reports an annual battle with the district to retain the school's enrollment cap that guarantees smaller classes. (The average class size at Timilty is 22 and the district average is 29.) Extra pay for the extended-day programs is also threatened by a state reform initiative that may include an extended school day with no additional compensation.

In Minneapolis, the recession caused serious problems for the school district and for local business, much as it did across the country. For Chiron, local business contributions that were expected to support the innovations failed to fully materialize. The problem was compounded by the fact that under the terms of the agreements on which the school was established, no district resources would be provided beyond those available to other schools. As we found during our visit to the school, staff have taken this requirement very seriously. However, the agreement may have established an unfortunate precedent, giving the district an impression that bold experiments cost the same as business-as-usual.

Two of the private residential schools, Piney Woods and Girard College, are venerable institutions and have rather large endowments that have built up over many decades. At the risk of some oversimplification, these endowments can be thought of as the same kind of resource base that the public schools enjoy. In recent years, these schools have embarked on improvement efforts that carry large price tags, including the addition or renovation of facilities. These improvements, like capital improvements to public schools, have taxed the resources of these schools and forced administrators and board members to make some difficult choices. For example, at Girard it was decided that, whenever possible, students should go home for weekends as a way of cutting back on operating expenses.

The Special Case of Schools with Very Limited Annual Operating Budgets

Four of the schools in our sample, Beaver Island, Chinquapin, Nativity Mission, and Nativity Prep, operate on very small annual budgets and lack the security afforded by an endowment or by regular commitments of resources from a school district. The fact that these schools provide solid educational programs is a tribute to their commitment and dedication, as well as to their stamina. Our case studies of these schools, particularly their experiences garnering and maintaining the resources necessary to sustain their programs, lead to several observations about the costs of time- related reforms--and other reforms as well.

The total annual operating budget in each of these schools is quite low. For example, in 1992-93, Nativity Mission reported an annual budget of $375,190, which includes $141,900 for financial aid to graduates who went on to private high schools. At Nativity Prep, the reported operating budget was between $180,000 and $200,000. At Chinquapin, the annual budget is $564,000, and at Beaver Island, the budget for two ten-week terms is $136,000. In each case, these figures represent all of the school's expenditures for its programs, including after-school, evening, and summer programs. Using data provided by the schools, we estimate the per-pupil expenditures to be approximately $5,000 at Nativity Mission, $6,000 at Chinquapin, and $6,200 at Beaver Island. (Bear in mind that these figures include room and board for students at Chinquapin and Beaver Island and that Nativity Mission operates 14 hours per day.)

Our data on specific expenditures help to explain how these schools stretch their modest resources to provide quality programs in residential settings. First, in all of the schools, staff salaries are low. As we discussed earlier, Nativity Prep and Nativity Mission rely heavily on volunteers and interns. The latter receive small stipends. In addition, faculties in these two schools include several members of the clergy. In several cases, the low salaries are somewhat balanced by the fact that the schools provide free room and board for staff members and, in the case of Chinquapin, their families.

The second factor that keeps overall costs to the schools low is the absence of significant expenditures for facilities and maintenance. For example, Nativity Prep occupies a building owned by the Archdiocese and pays no rent. At Chinquapin and Beaver Island, staff and students do much of the work on the facilities. Chinquapin owns its facilities. The Beaver Island property--once listed as a federal government surplus lighthouse--was purchased by the Charlevoix Public Schools for $1.00 in 1975. Over the years since the original purchase, CETA and JTPA training funds have been used for the labor and for some of the other costs associated with renovation and construction facilities.

Despite their successes at gathering resources, none of these schools appears to have achieved any real stability in funding. Therefore, their entrepreneurial activities are even more important than in the other schools, and they must consider even the smallest expenditures carefully. Frugality is the watchword in all fiscal affairs, and relatively small donations, such as a vehicle, can make or break an entire program or series of activities. Time for seeking resources and time for carefully managing resources are even more critical in these schools than in the others we studied.

What the experiences of these schools demonstrate is what is possible when committed leaders, staff, and community members not only work together to marshall resources from a variety of sources but also use them wisely in support of programs that they value and about which they share consensus. Our second observation about these schools is that despite their small operating budgets, they demonstrate the relatively high costs of providing quality education to relatively small numbers of students. That is, if the actual costs of facilities and routine operations were added to current budgets, the actual per-pupil expenditures in each of these schools would increase, although it is not possible to estimate just how much.

Concluding Observations about Resources Necessary to Alter the Uses of Time

All of the time-related innovations and programs we studied require resources. In the case of innovations and changes in existing programs, the required resources are in addition to those necessary for routine operations. With the exception of straightforward increases in the quantity of time for instruction, such as what happened at Moton, Lockett, and Timilty, there are no simple formulas for calculating the costs of these innovations. In examining innovations intended to alter the quality of time for instruction, it is possible to identify areas where investments are necessary and to identify the consequences of not making the investments.

The most important commodity to invest in is time itself. For the past 20 years, one of the most consistent--and least heeded--findings of the research is that change and innovation take time. This research also points to two dimensions of time--duration and intensity. The change process typically extends over a number of years--three to five is the standard increment, and there are periods of intense concentration and effort. Our findings certainly confirm these observations; if anything, they suggest that the amount of time necessary for change to occur or for a new program to mature may be even longer than five years. Indeed, a recurrent theme in many of our interviews was that the innovations were not yet finished. In recognition of this basic fact about change, most, although by no means all, of the schools in our study have found ways of making time available for teachers to think about, plan, discuss, experiment, and implement new ideas and practices. Two important considerations guided those schools whose investments produced the greatest payoff. First, there should be enough time for teachers to work collaboratively. Thus, rather than merely adding a planning period for all teachers, the challenge was to create blocks of time for teams, committees, or the entire faculty to work together. The second consideration was that these blocks of time would be available over a long period of time, e.g., a school faculty would have two hours for planning every Friday throughout the school year.

Professional development is a critical resource for some schools, but not for others. In a number of the public schools in our study, there were substantial investments in professional development opportunities. These investments included support for teachers to participate in workshops and other training activities held in the schools, in events elsewhere in the district, and in regional or national meetings. In some cases, such as at Wheeler and Hollibrook, professional development activities were extended over long periods of time and accompanied by opportunities for follow-up and sharing with colleagues. In our view, this general approach to professional development can support and evolve into the development of collective problem-solving strategies, particularly in schools in which there is consensus around a vision for what the schools should be about.

Professional development and external assistance do not figure prominently in the histories of the residential schools or the two Jesuit schools in our study. One simple explanation is that, for most of them, professional development is a luxury that they cannot afford. However, even with a stronger financial base, it is unclear that these schools would devote much time or money to professional development as we think of it in the public school context. They have their visions of high quality education firmly established and, given their records of success with students, have no particular reason to question the adequacy of their approaches to teaching and learning. Teachers who question the vision or cannot meet the standards will generally leave voluntarily or by request. Teachers who want to expand their knowledge base or their pedagogy are welcome to do so on a personal basis, but there is simply no impulse in these schools to get everyone pointed in the same direction through workshops or hired facilitators.

Investments in resources to alter the uses of time have the greatest impact when they are strategic. As we have reported in this chapter, all of the schools in our study have found it necessary to be aggressive in either seeking the resources they need to sustain their programs or creating new ones. One of the keys to their successes has been that they have, with some notable exceptions, been able to garner the resources they need when they need them. With the exception of Moton, Lockett, and Timilty, this has not meant large infusions of money. Instead, it has meant that teachers were able to participate in professional development activities when such participation was necessary or that it was possible to negotiate an exception to a union contract to facilitate either changing a school schedule or altering the way that teachers are assigned to a building.

Failure to invest in the necessary resources, particularly time, can doom even the most promising innovations. Adding 40 days to the school year at Moton and Lockett looked like a solution to several critical problems. The absence of adequate support for teachers to find ways of taking advantage of the increased time resulted in instructional business being carried on as usual for more days each year. Because student achievement did not improve as had been hoped, the experiment was stopped. Failure to provide sufficient support to carry out Chiron's radical experiment resulted in high faculty turnover and general frustration among the teachers. Proposed changes at Hollibrook, after some important early successes, became too ambitious in both scope and pace. The result has been that some teachers are beginning to burn out.
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[Resources Required to Alter the Uses of Time for Learning]  [Table of Contents]  [Time-Related Innovations and Teachers' Work Lives]