MAKING THE TIME TO LEARN
by Courtenay Singer
KIPP students spend about 67% more time in school than students in other public schools.
John F. Kennedy once said, “We must use time as a tool, not as a crutch.” Productive
use of available time is critical to any school's success. And often, building
additional productive time into the school schedule can help the students to excel.
Consider KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program. Before creating KIPP,
Mike Feinberg toiled as a public school math teacher, increasingly outraged with
the brevity of the typical public school day.
“The impact we could make on kids from 8 o'clock to 3 o'clock for 180 days was
very limited,” he explains. Frustrated, Feinberg and colleague David Levin hatched
a plan. They would start their own middle school program. And both agreed that
critical elements were a proactive school community and more time to learn.
Many maintain that a major problem facing U.S. schools is lack of sufficient
time to learn. American students spend less time in school than children from most
other industrialized nations. To address this time shortage, groups such as Consortium
for Policy Research in Education and RAND have indicated the importance of summer
school programs to extend the school year.
While the U.S. school year lasts for 180 days, other countries' school years
are much longer: China's lasts 251 days, Japan's is 243 days, and German students
spend 240 days per year in school. In addition, U.S. high school students spend
far fewer hours on core academic subjects: a paltry 1,460 hours as compared to
Germany's 3,528, France's 3,280, and Japan's 3,170.
While KIPP didn't invent the concept of more time on task, the program has excelled
at implementing it. Success, Feinberg declares, “is about rolling up your sleeves
and working very hard at it.” And working hard meant putting in the time, Feinberg
and Levin felt, as they crafted the KIPP strategy.
“We were going to motivate the kids to come from 7:30 in the morning until 5
o'clock in the afternoon. They would come for four hours on Saturdays, an extra
month in the summer, and have two or three hours of homework every single night.” As
a result of this intensive approach, KIPP students now spend 67% more time in school
than children at traditional public schools.
Since KIPP is a special group of charter schools, founders Levin and Feinberg
can create their own timetable for a longer school day or an extended year. But
most education reformers working within the U.S. public school system don't have
that freedom. Instead, they're stuck with the standard 180 days per year. This
limitation necessitates making the best, most efficient use of existing time.
To this end, Bob Slavin founded Success for All, a streamlined, heavily scripted
reading program. He bemoans the limitations of a 180-day school year during which
kids must learn to read. Knowing there's not a moment to waste, his school-by-school
program packs each 90-minute lesson chock-full of material to make every minute
count. The effort to run classrooms this efficiently inevitably provokes strong
resistance from teachers.
“When we start the program the first year, invariably the response we get is, ‘There's
no way on God's green earth we can fit all of this stuff in 90 minutes. Can't be
done,” says Slavin. “And we come back and say, ‘We have schools all over America
that are doing this in 90 minutes. And you'll find that you just have to become
more efficient in how you use your time.'”
Nancy Rashko, a teacher at Centennial Elementary in Mt. Vernon, Washington felt
pressured from the get-go. “The people from SFA were very rigid, strict with us
about how we were to deliver this new program and stick to some very tight time
schedules. We'd always be looking at our clock and going, ‘oh no, it's five after
eight, I'm supposed to be doing this and I'm not quite there yet.' It was drastic.”
Slavin finds that teachers adjust. “We come back by Thanksgiving, or maybe January
and by then, the teachers have usually figured out, ‘Yes, it can be done.' And
their way of thinking about every minute has totally changed to become as focused
as we are on the meaning of every minute of instruction.”
Success for All also asks the parents to read with the kids at home, and groups
kids with others of the same ability level, regardless of grade-level. But for
those children who still lag behind in reading, SFA again provides time:
20 minutes a day of one-on-one tutoring, so the specific reasons why a given child
is confused or struggling don't get overlooked in the larger classroom.
Success for All has reaped rewards. The program is currently in 1500 schools.
And a recent, rigorous study of 38 Success for All schools showed that students
read better after two years in the program and outpace students in regular classrooms
by up to half a year.
Another major challenge facing U.S. school reformers – as well as administrators,
teachers and parents – is kids' use of time. Reformers recognize that they are
competing for children's time and attention, and the competition is fierce. TV,
social life, and illicit activities, can all serve to lure children away from learning.
KIPP endeavors to address this problem by creating a community. KIPP fills students'
time both in school and beyond school walls, creating a culture that blends the
social with the academic.
“KIPP is creating a social world that thinks that academic effort is cool. And
that gets rewarded everywhere you turn,” says Lauren Resnick, Director of the Institute
for Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. “One thing we know about the worlds
that our minority kids live in is that their interest in getting involved in academic
matters is challenged by the street culture. So, they're trying, often, to live
in two worlds….and they don't always succeed. Part of what the successful intervention
programs have done is to bring the two worlds together, to give them a social world
to live in that's consonant with the academic world that they're trying to build.”
KIPP keeps kids so involved with school that they have limited time to venture
towards less savory activities. KIPP students must cut out most TV watching and
socializing on school nights, since they return home late, to ever-present piles
Blanca Garcia sent her son Reynaldo to KIPP, rather than the public school down
the street where her neighbor's kid goes. She says KIPP demands far more time of
Reynaldo. “You know, I talked to my neighbor, his son is Joey, and I said ‘I never
see Joey doing homework,'” says Garcia. “He says, ‘well, they say they don't have
no homework.' You see the kids going to the school without backpacks, without books.
They say they leave the books in the school.”
At KIPP, it's not only children who must dedicate their time. Parents or guardians,
along with students and teachers, sign a “Commitment to Excellence” form. By doing
so, they pledge to always make themselves available to the school and the child;
to check the child's homework every night; and to insure that the child gets to
school on time every day, and attends summer school and Saturday school. Blanca
and Reynaldo sometimes even do homework together, as Blanca is pursuing her nursing
Oversee the extra time with talented teaching, and Feinberg has reason to cheer. “Great
people with enough time to get things done, that was our recipe for success [in
the beginning], and a decade later that's still our recipe for success.”
And success is the reward. Since KIPP began, more than 80% of alumni from the
first two KIPP schools who completed high school also earned acceptances to college,
proving victorious over a multitude of obstacles – financial, social, and otherwise.
Success for All and KIPP have all recognized something critical – how to use
time “as a tool, not a crutch.” This means giving the children as much time as
possible, using the time as effectively as possible, and insuring
that the time is steered away from distractions and focused on academics.