Study: Better Teaching More Useful Than More Learning Time

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Years after the Obama administration began offering low-performing schools federal money if they agreed to add additional time to their school day or year in an effort to increase their performance rates, those schools who took the deal are saying the added time has only been slightly helpful.

School leaders report that better teaching, often a result of teachers being given more collaboration time, has resulted in a much bigger payoff.

The reports come as findings in a new study of 17 schools in four states released by the Center on Education Policy, “Expanded Learning Time: A Summary of Findings from Case Studies in Four States.”

In order to comply with the regulations in place from the federal School Improvement Grant, 30 minutes was added to every day at one school.  Teachers in that school received additional pay fort the extra hours.  In addition, three weeks of summer school were offered for those students who need it.

A second school decided to offer after-school academics and enrichment programs, a cheaper option than paying certified teachers for additional hours.  In addition, school was held for eight Saturdays each year.  Attendance on those days were mandatory for students who needed higher grades or who must show a mastery of reading, writing or math to receive a diploma.

However, principals at both of these schools say they do not think the additional school time will be feasible once the federal grants run out.  In addition, they both agree that teacher training, collaboration and improved techniques has led to a greater increase in student achievements than extra classroom time has, reports Betsy Hammond for The Oregonian.

“Any effort to expand learning time should go hand in hand with a plan for improving the quality of instruction,” said Maria Ferguson, executive director of the center that conducted the study.

One school asked teachers to develop and learn to use tools that would measure what individual students do and do not know, allowing them to tailor instruction levels to each student’s needs.  Students were put in smaller classes and groups that better addressed their specific needs.

In addition, Saturday school was found to be less helpful than making better use of the time the school already had in place.  The most important finding was to ask teachers to work together in an effort to find out what students need to learn and the best techniques to use to teach them.

“When people are looking at improvement for schools, I don’t think that (lengthening the school day or school year) is the central strategy. I think it is a peripheral strategy. I would never say that giving kids more time is a bad thing, ever. It’s a great thing. …I believe other strategies … are more important. … I think the two things that make the most sense to really focus on are the instruction that happens in the classroom during the school day — the quality of that instruction — as well as safety nets for when kids are falling through the cracks.” said Madison Principal Petra Callin.