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.