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Reform the School Day to Reform Schools

Schools and children are dictated by the bell schedule. Classes are 57 minutes, except for math and English, which are 87 minutes, because they’re tested at the end of the year. You have three minutes to get to your next class, where you then wash, rinse and repeat.

Unless we can break the cycles that drive our schools and really model the real world, we cannot have meaningful reform. Ask any professional. Their days do not come in neat chunks of time. Our students are not taught these skills and that hinders many as they head into a world that expects some basic life management out of them.

“21st Century Learning” is becoming synonymous with “[tech tool] in Kids Hands,” which is way off the mark. Yes, they need to be trained on technology, but we can’t stop there.

To me, a true 21st Century School would have flexible schedules, much like college. Teachers would have blocks of time for class and blocks of time for office hours. Students would be free to come and go as they needed, scheduling extra appointments on their own. Attendance would be tracked, and they would need to meet a minimum number of class hours each day or week.

In Indiana, we’re required to have six hours of learning a day. Learning, though, is often limited to classes. Any teacher worth their salt knows learning is much bigger than that. A true 21st Century School will have internship opportunities in place where students can focus on what they want to do, or take a range of opportunities to help narrow their ideas down. We cannot measure learning by seat time alone because usually, the greatest learning happens when we’re not in a seat.

We’ve lost sight of the value of flexibility. We can’t be flexible with schedules because student’s aren’t responsible enough to take them seriously. But, we can’t teach flexibility because there isn’t time in the mandated schedule. It’s a horrible Catch-22 that is holding American schools from making serious improvements. I say its time we begin to let go a little bit and really put our words into action.

photo credit: ASurroca via photopin cc

  • http://twitter.com/sullybuckeye Corey Sullivan

    Brian…interesting. I definitely agree with you that something needs to change. We are currently in the stage to build a new 21st Century school…however…it reminds me completely of schools built in the 1970s. Just makes me think of how little things have changed. I run a flipped mastery classroom and I wish I could be much more free with boundaries of quarters. Some kids are going to finish Algebra I in a semester and others may take 3 semesters. My school system doesn’t handle this well though. The paradigm hasn’t shifted completely, much like with scheduling.

    I try to imagine how my students would do with a flexible system. A can see a portion of kids coming at the same time every day, set in their rigid pattern. Other kids would struggle understanding the system and its freedom. They would fail to utilize the system. However, I can see some of my students (I know a few by name right now) that would love this scheduling and take advantage of it. They are the kids that work really hard and when they fall behind they make sure to come see me for extra help. These kids would love to be able to spend more time on Algebra some days and less on others.

    Is it the best for all kids? I’m not sure…and I’m not sure anything ever will be.

    • http://www.brianbennett.org/blog Brian Bennett

      Corey, I absolutely agree. This isn’t meant to be something that is done across the board for many reasons, one of the biggest ones being responsibility. In my case, I’m thinking of this program for seniors (as a pilot) and then hopefully juniors if it goes well. It’s still very, very rough right now, but its something I hope to be able to build into a viable program some day.

  • http://twitter.com/ThePonchat The Bearded Blog

    Love the post. But, you know where I stand. It’s time that education has some changes.

    Too bad these politicians won’t do anything about it. Have to get young, inspired people to actually make a change in the system. Keep on going Brian, good stuffs.

    • http://www.brianbennett.org/blog Brian Bennett

      Thanks, Ponchak…that means a lot. Yeah, unfortunately, school is one area the (federal) government has overreached their jurisdiction on the grounds of improvement. Instead, we have stifling regulations and unrealistic expectations. Hopefully, this generation of students will learn from the mistakes we made and make it better for the next.

  • http://twitter.com/Scareysci Scott Carey

    I love it. As long as we keep sending kids from “box to box” on an arbitrary schedule, the educational experience will be little more than the sum of its parts. Learning is an organic experience and the learning context (school) needs to reflect this. Great post and keep pushing the envelope!

    • http://www.brianbennett.org/blog Brian Bennett

      Thanks Scott. You summed it up great. Right now, if you add class 1 to class 2, etc, you have “learned.” The structure of the day communicates volumes to our students…what are we telling them with this outdated model?

  • Colleen McCloskey

    Brian,
    While I agree with a great deal of your post, I thin the bottom line for me is your quote “We can’t be flexible with schedules because student’s aren’t responsible enough to take them seriously”. I want students to be flexible enough to follow a hectic job schedule. You are right about that. I also want them to be grounded in the basics of education. I liked your response to Corey with a pilot program for Seniors, but how do you ensure they are being responsible with their program?

    • http://www.brianbennett.org/blog Brian Bennett

      I think that’s the big question right now. If we don’t have enough flexibility to teach these skills, can they be taught as part of the program? I’m doing a lot of brainstorming and talking with students to see what they would think. There definitely need to be some high standards and set guidelines as part of the program. It’s clear that any attempt at this will need to be a collaborative effort between teachers and students.

      • Colleen McCloskey

        I’d recommend some parental collaboration too. do you have a good system to communicate with families, and do they seem interested?

        • http://www.brianbennett.org/blog Brian Bennett

          Absolutely. Parents and local organizations (hosting interns, etc) would definitely need to be invited to the table. Communication is the crux of this, in my opinion. Students need to learn to communicate between all of their obligations in order to make it work.
          At this point, it is still an idea. I’m working on building some foundations before bringing it to parents and community members. What kinds of things do you think they would want to know about?

          • Colleen McCloskey

            I’m not a parent, but as a future teacher I would want families to know about my view of the student’s progress, problem areas, and where I we can make improvements. I would want to know the same from them, and depending on the student’s age, I’m want to hear from him. Not sure about how this type of assessment fits with your model.

  • http://twitter.com/ClassLink ClassLink

    Totally agree with you, Brian. It most certainly is something that people in position have to take time to explore and consider – now. Being that technology is advancing each day, our educational systems should be able to move along with time to accommodate and further classroom learning. Supporting this idea is just one way for people to start realizing the opportunity innovation has given our children as our future.

  • L.J. (Laura) Allen

    Hi,
    I’m a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I have to admit that I’ve never thought about the idea of giving high school level students a wider range of flexibility in their schedules. This sounds like a wonderful idea that would better prepare them for college and professional life. I’m all for a change like this, and I’m happy that you got me thinking about this idea.
    -L.J. (Laura) Allen