Do Students Need More Time?

By Naomi Dillon

It’s been argued that time is the major design flaw in public education.

Though a multitude of reform initiatives have come and gone in the last several decades, the amount of time teachers and students spend in school has remained remarkably constant, with most districts adhering to a 6.5-hour, 180-day academic calendar.

And while instructional time -- which some studies estimate is actually closer to five hours a day when assemblies, hallway pass times, lunch, and other interruptions are accounted for -- has stayed stagnant, the expectations for what students must learn in that window has increased dramatically in the last quarter century.

“Teachers are feeling under incredible pressure to reach very high performance goals,” says Jennifer Davis, president of the National Center on Time & Learning, a Boston-based nonprofit that advocates for extended time in school. “And when you look at survey results, [teachers] commonly say they don’t have time to meet the needs of individual students or to cover the curriculum.”

Politics and tradition have limited and stymied previous efforts to extend the school day and calendar, however. But that may change under the Obama administration, which has specifically targeted the school day and year as part of its education agenda, allocating $5 billion through its Race to the Top initiative to spur innovation. 

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