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Instructional Minutes
March -April 1998

There is a great deal of discussion these days on the topic of instructional minutes. Would an extended day and/or extended year improve student learning? There is also much discussion on whether or not it would be a good idea to extend the teacher's year to include time for professional development.

I propose that we take on these topics to start our next discussion.

Offer your opinions.

--Jerry Swanitz

My first two thoughts on the subject of extended days and year--and the effect on learning-- 

1) Unless the integrity and quality of teachers and time in the classroom is high, the amount of time won't matter too much. I've seen fine teachers use longer periods creatively and to the full advantage, and I've seen lazy and under-qualified teachers waste however long they have. We need to be looking at quality--not quantity, I think.

2) I believe in a longer day for kids, as school provides the proverbial "safe haven" so many of our school children lack--and can provide much more by way of recreational activities, additional learning activities, community building resources, (health center, literacy centers, etc) which would add concomitant learning benefits for everyone. Also, a longer school year might mean a different style of teaching for part of the extension. Camp, for example, continues the learning process, but is in a different milieu - allowing for a varied experience.

Feedback? Expansion?

--Rachel Dahill-Fuchel

Here are my first thoughts on time. We are shifting to block scheduling at both the middle and high schools where I am now working. This is a considerable shift for both planning and instructional time. As teachers we are evaluating how we use planning time. Issues that come up for us have to do with working collaboratively for mutual goals. For example, if the dual language team (the Spanish bilingual and the English environmental science teachers, and 2 resource specialists) meets on Tuesday, then it can not meet with the Health Careers Team as a whole. The dual language team meets to reflect on the lesson just taught and plan for the next lesson. The
instructional issues include how do we teach a 90 minute lesson to address a variety of learning styles, and abilities. With more time we can accomplish more within each lesson but we have to teach differently. Our menu of activities has to be varied. We include sheltered language introduction, cooperative group work, individual accountability and review. 

Middle school teachers are more kin to elementary teachers and seem to find it easier to work thematically and plan active lessons. Our middle school dual language program teachers meet on Thursdays for thematic unit planning and whole cluster issues. The science focused curriculum requires one more planning meeting per week to work on the hands on science/Spanish language lesson. The instructional block is one hour and forty minutes long and requires a full range of learning experiences within a regular frame work. For example: Motivation may include a video, story, game or challenge, the hands- on cooperative experiment follows, reading/writing and review. We are building a repertoire of movement breaks to use when we need to focus.

--Berta Berriz

I was intrigued, Rachel, by your point on quality vs. quantity. Clearly, spending more time doing things ineffectively will not yield positive results. What if, however, instructional minutes were increased and instruction was effective? Would that improve both the  quality and quantity of student learning?
Regardless of the above, I like your idea of schools providing a "safe haven." There are so many places in the country where that function would be so beneficial.

In response to Berta:

I have been teaching in the block schedule for the last five years. It presents new and interesting instructional challenges, but I love it. It  has made such a difference for me. Getting out of the "factory" model has made teaching so much more pleasurable and  rewarding. It sounds as though the schedule is forcing a lot of collaboration, planning, a focus on instructional strategies, and reflective practice. 
Great stuff!

--Jerry Swanitz

I would strongly recommend that anyone interested in questions of time start with a look at Andy Hargreaves, _Changing Teachers, Changing Times: Teachers' Work and Culture in the Post-Modern Age._ New York: Teachers College Press, 1994. and in _Racing With The Clock: Making Time for Teaching and Learning in School Reform._ N. Adelman, K. Walking Eagle, and A. Hargreaves, editors. New York: Teachers College Press, 1997. Time is a vital and complex issue, and these works do an excellent job of parsing it various elements.

Rachel's point that quantity that does mystically transform into quality (dialectical philosophy notwithstanding) is very important. An hour more of 'chalk and talk' lessons added on to a school day will succeed only in producing crazier teachers and students at the day's close. If one examines the issue of time in international, comparative perspective, one will find that those countries with longer school days and years -- Japan is often used as a point of reference -- still have less instructional time for teachers. The additional time and more is used for teachers to meet with each other, with students and with parents, and to engage in preparation and professional development. I doubt that this is what American school boards and politicians have in mind. 

All of this raises what I believe is the key issue regarding time -- not how much of it there is, but who controls it. To what extent do teachers, individually and collectively, control their use of time? As Hargreaves, et. al. point out, so long as the time is controlled and directed from the top-down in a hierarchical fashion you have the work intensification problem, where teaching is seen as an instrumental, non-intellectual application of knowledge produced elsewhere -- the factory model of teaching. Hargreaves is especially good at pointing out the problem of 'contrived collegiality', in which teachers are directed to work together in ways that make no sense to themselves. 

The issue of time, therefore, is an issue which goes to the heart of the nature of teaching. 

--Leo Casey

In NYC we now have an initiative in the elementary schools called Project Read. It is in response to the call for all children to be reading by the third grade. Many of the districts are spending the money on after school literacy programs. Teachers work from 3:30-5:30 with smaller groups of children (numbers in my school are in the teens). Children receive a snack so they are not starving during the additional school time. The preliminary results are encouraging - the smaller classes, relaxed atmosphere and feeling of being in a special relationship after school with a new class seems to be working. I was at a literacy and arts conference this weekend where similar results in another district were reported. 

Obviously this speaks to Rachel's point about quality vs. quantity of time in school. I hope that if we eventually move to a longer school day for all, we examine this issue carefully.  

--Judi Fenton

I just read the letters of Rachel, Leo, Judy, and Jerry on Time. First, I was reminded of the  Woody Allen joke about the woman who spent time at a horrible resort and commented that "the food was awful; and they don't give you enough of it!" The possibility of an extension of time being a bureaucratic pandering to those with no educational interest, but looking for additional child care is a large concern. I agree with Leo that like so many of the questions we address this one should be rooted in a response that derives from the needs of children and the concerns of teachers to draft the responses to those needs. Once again PD originating in the needs of professionals strikes me as the core from which action should begin. Judy mentioned project read, and it is early to say, but I see so much wasted time associated with the program in my school that I question the expenditure. The problem here is once again there is a top down solution with no authentic participation at the original planning stage by professionals. In my school I am beginning to see exhausted teachers working 9 to 5 anxious for the extra income, but lacking "time" to think, plan, and execute in any really creative way. I realize I am introducing a new issue here. That is the stamina of teachers. Let me also add that because it is a money issue and the  program is daily desperate for teachers it is not always the most educationally motivated teachers who are involved. I would like to see  more PD time evolving from concerns of teachers without increasing the contact time. A last thought: so much of children's lives is now orchestrated that they don't have time to be (Calvin Kline may be an idiot), but kids need some free time. 

--Joe Rafter

In response to Jerry's prompt regarding increases in student learning related to an extended day or year, my school (SE Los Angeles, inner city, low income, etc.) has been banking time (adding a few classroom minutes per day) so that each Thursday the students leave one hour early. 

That extra time has been designated for "cluster" meetings of teachers who share the same students, grade, etc. Instructional planning, assessment  and a variety of other topics are to be discussed during this time, but as usual, it is dependent upon the individual teachers' motivation. Often times this hour is misused for individual lesson planning, photocopying, gripe sessions, early departure, etc. This rarely, if ever, improves student achievement. 

However, a committed "cluster" can effectively use this short hour, and even extend that time past the usual 3 P.M. bell--can you imagine? Teachers who utilize this time well can and do positively affect student learning. 

By designating a short period outside the regular school day, teachers are free from distraction, ready and able to collaborate with their team to  discuss and plan important issues regarding student achievement.

We include professional development 5 or 6 days per year during mandatory, pupil free days. Rather than obliging tired teachers to sit through and often resent even high quality training, special days set aside specifically for that seem to be more effective. 

Rather than extend the school year to include more "traditional" professional development days, our LA policy group has been talking with Los Angeles Unified's professional development unit. We are lobbying for them to accept participation in Networks as a viable professional development activity, and to approve salary point credit for such participation. We need district administrators to recognize the value of networks as meaningful, specialized professional development activities; instead of exclusively rewarding participation in generic, whole faculty, "ballroom" style lectures, which are more often that not, if retained at all, forgotten shortly thereafter. 

--Deborah Kagan

I like Rachel's comments about camp, after school activities, etc. Different environments, and even activities in which teachers can be seen in a new light by their students can positively affect student achievement. 

Last year I took my class camping for 5 days at a ranch in the mountains. I bonded with the students through untypical class stuff, like climbing a rock wall with ropes, swimming races, long hikes, and tending to farm animals. Back at school, I observed students' motivation increase and their performance improve, compared to students who did not attend camp. 

We do have after school programs (games, sports, classes, etc.) because of our commitment to be a community center, safe haven, etc. I am not sure if this helps student learning, or is just a fun and time consuming distraction. Social skills or athletic skills may be nurtured, but I don't know how this transfers to the class. 

After school programs or class vacations require extra teacher time, which must be compensated somehow. We can't be philanthropic all the time--our families would kill us. Any ideas? 

--Deborah Kagan

"First things first" covers individual time management as an overall  heading; a discussion on "what are the first things to be put first and  how does a teacher manage that decision making when many children asking  for attention" might be interesting in sharing about this one, and one I  imagine parents would know a thing or two about. But it's not at the  heart of the discussion.  

It's that "collectively control" that takes this time question out of the   realm of management science, Peter Drucker and the "7 Habits" and into the realm of cultural evolution. 

Does a specified group of teachers have a social space and time they  could theoretically norm and purpose themselves, and are they aware that  they are choosing, and responsible for that choice? If so what ARE they  choosing to do with it? 

In my school, a goodly number talk nonsense during lunch, goof around,  curse at the kids and the system. There's no professional culture, and I  seriously doubt more time would change that. Their internal model of what  their job is doesn't include that degree of professionalism - chalk it up  to the inadequacy of teacher preparation or the entropy of professional  culture in bureaucratically stifling environments, I reckon.  

To use time well, teachers need to realize that they are responsible for  establishing and guiding their norms and purposes in the time that they  have together, and that job satisfaction and performance depend on taking  that responsibility seriously.  

How do you get to that from "here"? I wonder. There needs to be  collaboration time set aside to develop such a culture when a new school  is forming - and "acculturation" time for new teachers to be brought into  it. "Squeaky wheel" administrations like mine won't set this time aside  or frame it appropriately - and once the damage is done, and a culture  like the one in my school forms, one would need to break the school into  houses, clean each house, and start fresh with good facilitators to  repair the damage.

--Bram Moreinis

As a fundamental issue in my policy paper, time is really at the heart of many issues these days, both in education and in life. I would like to use a simple analogy to back up Joe's one liner (look out Seinfeld). It comes from my Latin husband's culture which is very much dedicated to the fine art of good cooking and time to enjoy eating, which are also deeply enmeshed with notions of love and quality living. I think that the point may be made that to prepare a fast food or TV dinner although maybe tasty, is not the stuff of good dining. So time in education may need to slow down by extending time allowing children time to become engaged and actively productive. 

As all of us seem to agree, quantity does not necessarily guarantee quality, the emphasis must be on teacher professional development as to  how time is used whether in the current industrial paradigm, the block or flexible schedule or the extended day. I believe that the extended day, if used richly and wisely, indeed makes for a better quality of learning. In this rapid pace of America, we could all afford to slow down just a little bit to smell the roses. I am feeling as if I rush through the days and I seldom have time to enjoy the benefit of collaboration with colleagues. That time must be built into the day and yes, pay us for it! 

I am with Rachel on pt. #2. Ideally the school building, particularly in the city, but maybe too, all over, opens up into a vital center for curricular and extra curricular activities which are implemented with a larger and more versatile staff who are able to spark young people's interest in learning of all types from strict academic material to occupational and life skill kinds of subject matter. Kids in Boston have the Y and the Boys and Girls Club, but these are not sufficient and well enough situated to reach most youngsters and the lure of the streets or the tube are all too attractive. Too many of our institutions, churches, temples and schools in particular are locked into a rigid schedule of 8-4 M-F or 8-12 Saturday or Sunday. These spaces could be utilized for so much more. 

Teachers don't need a much longer day necessarily. They can share days with colleagues. If schools were open 15 hours with shifts of learning and teaching, like a  hospital does, so much more could be done for kids. I really think that if we put our heads together, we can do so much better than we are. 

--Maggie Hoyt

Clearly, more time would be valuable, but as so many of you have said, it has to be quality time. As we look at adding days to the year and/or minutes to the day, we must address what that time will be used for and how we can insure that effective use would be  made of additional time.

The one thing which has become increasingly evident to me is that American public school teachers need paid collaborative time (imbedded in the school year). There are few things as powerful as teachers  working together to improve instruction and student learning. 

--Jerry Swanitz

Earlier, some references were made to how other educational systems (outside the U.S.) deal with time. While each system is unique, we can’t avoid the bottom-line achievement comparisons with foreign countries—especially as this is often the original political impetus for change within our own. 

Besides being a licensed elementary teacher here in the States, some of you know I’ve just returned from Japan—where I taught & managed a school for the last 7-8 years. Prior to this, I understood—as I believe most Americans do—the Japanese education system to have longer school days and longer calendar years. This is, however, only true in part. 

School days for Japanese children start considerably shorter than for most of their American counterparts. A 1st grader, for example, may be finished by 1PM, while a 3rd grader may stay until 2:30. It isn’t until about junior high that school gets much longer—and even here, we’re talking about 3:30 or 4:00. 

And yes, the school calendar year is much longer in Japan—but, interestingly enough, Japan is in the middle of a long-term plan that is shortening it each year. Saturday classes are being completely eliminated, and vacation/break periods are to lengthen.  Further, students—and sometimes teachers—are given many days off for special events, meetings, etc. (although these are generally recorded as school days).

Admittedly, Japanese still spend more time in school than we—one factor that has contributed to their higher test scores. Besides scores, however, we have to ask: What are the overall results??? 

For what it’s worth, Tadashi Ichikawa—the head of Tokyo’s schools—recently told a group of U.S. state educators that Japan is working hard to reform its schools to become more American. Yes, that’s right. Specifically, they want children to spend less time at school [they are also adding more curricular choice—and beginning to experiment with decentralization]. Japan has increasingly noticed that their extended school life has limited childrens' play, life experience, and especially creativity—and quality of life in society as a whole. {For those die-hard academics among you, there's an excellent article about this in USA Today--March 10, p. 13A.} 

You can draw your own conclusions. But clearly, longer school hours and years are not panaceas—and bring other problems in tow. 

While limited extensions may have some benefit, perhaps the more sensible approach is to concentrate on what works within our systems and find ways to ensure a better equity between districts. 

--Peter Paul

Peter, thank you so much for your very informative, experience-based contribution to our discussion about the issue of time. There is such a "politically correct" push toward more time in class in California! I assume that other states are experiencing some of the same pressure.  Clearly, the conversation should first address how effectively time is used.

I maintain, however, that teachers need more time for collaboration and professional development. 

--Jerry Swanitz

Peter, Your comments are so interesting. Everyone in the U.S. is using these studies of Japan to make arguments, but isn't it ironic that the Japanese are going our way. Exactly what is the rationale they are using, do you know?  

--Maggie Hoyt

Jerry, I would agree that U.S. teachers definitely need more time for professional development and collaboration--and students probably need more time in school; just ask any teacher how long it takes for students to "recover" from summer vacation and return to where class was in June. 

The point is to observe some limits in our pursuit--and to know what we are pursuing, as well as the possible consequences.  

--Peter Paul

Maggie, I agree with the irony. What is most surprising is how little many Americans seem to really understand about modern Japanese education and society—yet how often they use it to compare against our own. Just recently, I heard a famous education professor at Columbia, upon returning from Japan, tell a class how surprised s/he was that Japan wanted to emulate parts of our system[s] and do a better job teaching creativity. 

S/he shouldn't have been. Reforms to "Americanize" & decrease school time, etc. began several years ago...and are slated to continue until 2015-- Japan's own version of Goals 2000. In the USA Today article, Ichikawa affirmed that while Japan has done well teaching to multiple choice questions, on the "creativity parts of exams, American children are much better than Japanese children."

Further, the bigger quality of life issue looms too closely when success on tests and school demands are so controlling. Japan believes limiting school time and increasing American-like compassion-minded teaching may help ameliorate these problems--and, perhaps ironically, make Japan more competitive in the global marketplace. More importantly, virtually all Japanese agree. All anyone has to do is ask.  

--Peter Paul

I thought I'd send this article along for those you interested in our extended day, extended year discussion. I found it interesting. 

--Jerry Swanitz

ED259450 84 Extending the School Year and Day. ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management: ERIC Digest, Number Seven. 
Author: Ellis, Thomas I.

ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management, Eugene, Oreg. 

Arguments for lengthening the school day and/or school year assume that more time devoted to learning will yield proportionally higher achievement scores. Research data reveal, however,  that the correlation between time and achievement is far slighter than expected and suggest that the quality of time spent in learning is more important than the quantity.  Moreover, the costs of extending school time are disproportionate to any resulting instructional gains. 


In the United States, the typical school day lasts six hours and the school year numbers 180 days. In contrast, other industrialized countries, such as England, provide up to eight hours of schooling a day, 220 days a year. 

The National Commission on Excellence in Education was concerned that the average school in the United States provides only 22 hours of academic instruction per week.  These findings prompted the commission to recommend "more effective use of the existing school day, a longer school day, or a longer school year." But the assumption underlying this proposal, that more time in school would increase student learning, has not gone unchallenged. 


Research indicates that the relationship between time and learning is complex and problematic. First, a distinction must be drawn between time allocated for instruction, time engaged in instructional activities, and time spent successfully completing instructional activities. Only the last of these has been found to have a direct correlation with achievement. Yet even the relationship between additional time on task and student achievement is less apparent than researchers expected. 

A recent study found that an additional 60 minutes a day allocated to reading comprehension alone would be required to raise test scores by a quarter of a standard deviation, that is, 25 points on a SAT-style test scored from 200-800 points (Karweit l982).

Another study of Stanford Achievement Test scores among third graders found the correlation to be surprisingly low; only 2 percent of the variance in reading scores was associated with percentage of time on task (Rossmiller l983). It is questionable, therefore, whether feasible increases in the time students spend in school can substantially improve their achievement. 


According to Rossmiller, a typical school year of 1,080 hours may result in as few as 364 hours of time on task, after deducting time for noninstructional activities, process activity (distributing material, keeping discipline), absenteeism, and other time not on task. 

Such findings suggest that the emphasis should be placed on the quality, rather than the quantity, of the time spent in school. Administrators should strive to reduce the amount of school time that is either lost or diverted to noninstructional activities before extending the school day or year. 


Stuck and Wyne (l982) offer useful suggestions for strengthening the correlation between learning time and achievement.  Teachers should show students clearly what they are expected to learn and how to measure accomplishment. In addition, teachers should assign tasks at an appropriate level of difficulty, select learning tasks resulting in a high level of success, employ objective feedback, require frequent responses, and ensure overlap of curriculum and testing. 

To increase the opportunity to learn, teachers should begin and end lessons on time, reduce transition time between tasks, minimize waste time, and closely monitor student learning.


Other arguments exist for lengthening the school day or year besides the correlation between time in school and student achievement. For example, Thomson (l983), executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, claims a longer school year is needed to accommodate the requirements of the information age.

Many teachers argue that they need more time to cover the necessary material. Others cite nonacademic reasons; the increasing number of working mothers would welcome a program allowing students to stay in school until the end of the work day. Such time could be used for activities ranging from remedial labs and gymnastics to computer electives. 


According to Odden (l983) of the Education Commission of the States, extending the school day to eight hours or lengthening the school year from l80 to 200 days would cost the nation more than $20 billion annually. In a time of budget cuts, school districts would be hard put to find such additional funding. 

The cost effectiveness of extending school time also is questionable. Levin (l983) suggests that, rather than extending the school year and day enough to raise costs $500 or more per pupil, a school district might do better to increase teacher salaries, hire remedial specialists, or obtain new equipment. 


Anderson, Lorin W. "Learning Time and Educational Effectiveness." In CURRICULUM REPORT, National Association of Secondary School Principals. December, 1980. ED  210 780. 

Caldwell, Janet H., William G. Huitt, and Anna O. Graeber. "Time Spent in Learning: Implications From Research." ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL 82 (May 1982):71-80.


Karweit, Nancy. TIME ON TASK: A RESEARCH REVIEW. Report No. 332. Baltimore, MD and Washington, D.C.: Center for Social Organization of Schools, Johns Hopkins University, and National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1982. ED 228 236. 

Levin, Henry. "About Time for Educational Reform," as cited in "Length of School Day and Year." ERS BULLETIN 11 (December 1983):8.

Mazzarella, Jo Ann. "Longer Day, Longer Year: Will They Make a Difference?"  PRINCIPAL 64 (May 1984):14-20. 

Odden, Allan. SCHOOL FINANCE REFORM: PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE. Issuegram 26. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States, 1983. ED 235 589. 

Rossmiller, Richard A. "Time-on-Task: A Look at What Erodes Time for Instruction." NASSP BULLETIN 67 (October 1983):45-49.

Stuck, Gary B., and Marvin D. Wyne. "Time and Learning: Implications for the Classroom Teacher." THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL 83 (September 1982): 67-75.

Thomson, Scott D. "School Year." NASSP NEWSLETTER 31 (November 1983):2. 

This Digest was prepared for the ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management, l984.

This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under OERI contract. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of Education. 

I was recently reading some information regarding the famous TIMS study in which American students were featured as among the lowest scoring students in math and science. The writers have said, in more than one column, that students who were compared overseas were not only older than American students, like the equivalent of sophomores in college in some cases, but that many had already completed courses in calculus, and only one percent of the American student population was surveyed. Interesting how distorted perceptions can be. 

Anyway, the other interesting factor regarding education in Japan is, particularly in math, that they cover much less material, but do so in much more depth....the TV documentary I saw showed the typical textbook as being little more than a pamphlet....is that what you observed as well? 

--Ron Klemp

Ronald, those are excellent observations and questions!

Yes, textbooks in Japan are often quite different than those we're used to; the term "pamphlet"--or perhaps "book-let"-- is appropriate. Your question of depth, however, is a bit more complicated and roams into quasi-political territory. Still, here goes...  

In general, I think American elementary schools do a better job of teaching students than their counterparts in Japan--while I believe the reverse is often true when considering effects of secondary education systems. Most Japanese firmly hold this belief as well. Assuming this is true, where and why this happens are points of some importance. 

My experience is that Japanese secondary classrooms expect a LOT more from their students-- they don't necessarily have more depth instead of breadth, they just demand a lot more in general (this is especially true in math or science-- and other subjects involving rote memorization or learned skills...e.g., history, engineering). 

The next issue involves asking ourselves why we don't teach to the same standard. This may or may not be possible. Japanese society would seem quite "foreign" to many teachers. Most Japanese--even high-schoolers--view education as their single most important value. The most popular/accepted student is often the smartest or academically successful. 

Further, almost all students attend "juku" (translated as "school after school" or "cram school")-- until late at night, many nights a week. This is vitally important to understand because, in effect, students have classes in these subjects twice! Many Japanese swear that these jukus--not traditional schools-- are where much of this "depth" occurs.  

--Peter Paul

Interesting, Peter. I did view a video tape that compared a high school  Japanese math class to an American class. And, yes, it was much like you said. I believe the system is similar to Taiwan too, as I did see the pamphlet textbook for high school physics and was able to compare it with an American textbook. We do breadth and not too much depth. Wait until we get the high school CA science standards. Not much has changed there either! CA has put out its first science standards draft for public comment. If you would like to see it: http://www.ca.gov/goldstandards I have a girlfriend who lives in Hong Kong. Her children have always had tutors because the students there have to compete to get into the best schools there. Her daughter and son have been sent here for college and as you would predict, are doing well in their studies. 

--Diana Taga


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