The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 7, 2008

Book review: ‘Time to Learn: How a New School Schedule is Making Smarter Kids, Happier Parents, and Safer Neighborhoods’

By Christopher Gabrieli and Warren Goldstein

“Time to Learn” gives lots of anecdotal and a fair amount of empirical evidence that adding time to the school year is beneficial to everyone, from children to parents to teachers.

Of course, we’ve all heard that American schools are lagging behind schools in almost all other developed countries, and that is probably due in no small part to the fact that children elsewhere spend far more time in school than they do here. I didn’t find it amazing that extending the school day and/or the school year would result in more and better learning, but I was surprised to find out that most parents, teachers and (hey!) students like it better.

Parents are relieved, particularly the less well-to-do, that their children have a safe, supervised environment for more of the day and that (generally) their children have far less homework. Less homework means more time for the family, less stress from dealing with children reluctant to do homework, and less anxiety caused by being unable to assist with more advanced homework. A longer school day usually means more enrichment (sports, arts, tutoring, advanced classes) and allows parents to reduce the time and effort they put into finding those things for their children after school. For parents who don’t have the means to pay for those things, it means their children can have the benefit of some of those experiences as well.

Teachers, who one might think would oppose lengthening their own workday, are often actually pleased once they begin working in the new system. Pay is increased to cover the extra time, which often allows teachers who have had second jobs to focus solely on their chosen profession. Moreover, many find that (even with the extended hours) their stress levels decrease because they don’t have to try to rush through each day to cram in all the required subject matter. School districts often allow those who don’t want to work the extended day to continue working their accustomed workday, either starting earlier or later, to cover the middle of the day. Of course, in addition to just adding time to the day, schools restructure the entire environment, generally going to longer blocks of time for subjects and allowing more prep time and less supervision of recess and lunch periods and so on (which are given over to aides) so that teachers have time to prepare and compare notes with other professionals.

Most surprising, at least on the surface, is that most of the children themselves prefer the extended school day. Of course, when you consider the benefits to the students, it becomes more evident why many would prefer it. The restructuring of class time allows for more experiential (hands-on) learning and less rushing. It makes learning more fun for just about everyone and makes learning much easier for the more challenged students.

Having time to do homework while still at school (and with teachers/tutors to help) frees up their time once they do go home, and reduces or eliminates the stress of “Did you do your homework?” for those who have engaged parents as well as the problem of not having a parent capable of assisting with homework or interested in making sure that homework is done. The extended day also allows, as previously mentioned, either more tutoring for those who need it or art, music, sports or other electives for those who are at or above grade level. Being able to add electives is an incentive for those who are struggling and not being made to stay “after school” relieves embarrassment and resentment for those who need extra help getting up to speed.

The book gives lots of information about a number of different schools and how they have dealt with extended school time, from adding an hour or two to the day to adding days and/or time and the benefits and drawbacks to all the ways of doing so. Practical information is given for those who are interested in implementing extended time and I, for one, hope that it becomes a trend. Fascinating reading for parents, teachers, and school administrators.

Linda Cannon is the collection development librarian at Joplin Public Library.