Friday, April 13, 2007

180 Days?

Barry Bachenheimer is the Director of Instruction for Caldwell-West Caldwell Public Schools in New Jersey. He's also an adjunct professor at Montclair State University and teaches a course titled "Strategies for Curriculum Change." He used the Did You Know?/Shift Happens video to jump-start a discussion with his class about what skills and content students will need to know to be successful in the 21st century. They liked it (something like wild applause and immediately writing out checks to the creator of the video) and it did generate a lot of discussion. One thing that kept coming up over and over again was the issue of time. As Barry blogs,
At the same time they were engaged by the video and agreed that some things needed to change, one thing that kept being repeated was "We don't have enough time as it is", "There's not enough time in the school year". Or "We do too much already, how can we do more?". We talked with them about abandonment of traditional curriculum and lots of other topics. When I got home I got to think about how many of the 180 days of school are used for true instruction. Were their claims right? Do we really not have enough time, or is the time being used for things that don't lead to good instruction but have become "acceptable" or rather an "acceptable loss" in school culture.

In response to their thoughts . . . I made my own, called 180 days. I showed it to the class and reactions were mixed. All were engaged. Some said they wanted to share it with colleagues. Some said that the items mentioned were a necessary part of school. (Some shared that they show movies when they need a "break" or to "reward" kids.) I certainly over-emphasized the issue, but to make a point about how we use out time in school and how the "180 days" is thrown around quite loosely.
I thought this was a great idea, so of course I immediately stole . . . umm, remixed it for my school (with Barry's permission). Here is the PowerPoint customized for my school. Unfortunately, I'm not going to post the music (Wasted on the Way by Crosby, Stills and Nash). If you have access to that song, you can add it back in - it starts on the fourth slide. (For my staff, I'm putting a copy of this presentation with the music on the server - AHS Staff folder, then 21c folder). You should also click through to Barry's post to watch his original version.

Now, before watching either one, let's be clear on a few things. First, just like all the presentations I've created (or borrowed), this is meant to be a conversation starter, not the final answer. Second, some of the numbers are simply estimates, your mileage may vary. Third, I am in no way implying that all of the items listed in this presentation are bad or unnecessary, far from it - many of them are very necessary (well, some of them I'm not very fond of, but many of them are okay). But I do think it's worth thinking about how many days we actually have for "instruction" and - as Barry says - how "loosely" we throw around the idea of 180 days of instruction per year. If all of our curricular decisions are based on an assumption about the number of days we have that might be inflated by as much as 50%, then maybe we need to look at that some more. In other words, it's worth having a conversation about and seeing if we should think about making some changes.


  1. is very important. I will view the power point shortly but the whole question of time , how we use it ...lesson planning and expectations for daily activity in a 2.0 classroom...need to be discussed more.
    I have a related post on my blog and a slightly different one on LeaderTalk both of which ask about new models:
    - for formal observations
    - for lesson planning,
    - for using our time
    As an administrator, if I am supposed to be a curriculum leader, I need new tools and new expectations for how time is used and curriculum is explored.

  2. While I entirely agree with the fact that many days "disappear" from the instructional calendar without any teaching consideration of where the time is going (start background: Judy Collins, "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?"), I think the bigger questions are twofold: What is the definition of "instructional?" (subquestions: Is test review not instructional? What about learning to plan your academic path? etc. Are lessons in school cummunity (pep rallies???)instructional?

    More important is the second question: What opportunites that do not occur within the confines of the classroom are we missing as "instructional" time? Does the teacher have to be in the same space/time with the student for instruction to occur? What about the student who spends three hours exploring a concept on the web as a result of a challenge made in "class"? IF ONLY the education process could harness some of the time that is not "ours" and use it for "instruction," who cares about assemblies? Of course, then we have the issues of access and accountability...

    --A thought for Saturday morning from someone who left the minute-counting after 27 years and now works 24/7 "from home." (Def of "home"? Do I mean home page or domicile?). I am still surprised that it doesn't take exactly 3 minutes to change activities and move to the next room(!)But that's another story.

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  4. In response to your presentation, I emphasize that the time standardized tesing takes away from authentic, worthwhile curricula delivery time is amazing

    In Pennsylvania, we've been adding more and more to our standardized testing program the PSSA. We are now up to testing about 50 days over the K-12 student's career, testing in Reading, Math, Science, and Writing; and Social Studies and Art are on their way. Add to that the test-prep that schools are finding necessary to meet AYP, the distraction from scope and sequence, and students are losing at least a full year of instructions over the course of their formal education. This is in addition to the four years (60 days/year X 12 years) that you note. That's equivalent not even spending a day in high school.

    Parents, teachers, and students are dumbfounded to learn how much time is lost in standardized testing. Perhaps fortunately, it's a much easier argument to make than trying to explain how standardized tests are poor ways to measure and encourage student learning.

    In a 1997 interview on PBS NewsHour, William Goodling, then Chairman of Education and Workforce Committee, said "you don't fatten cattle by weighing them. You don't speed up a car by putting in one more speedometer. You don't help children learn by offering one more test."

    Indeed you waste their time.
    --Charles Youngs, Pennsylvania

    Refer to

  5. We do know that assessment/testing is at the heart of learning; it is part of the instruction produced by/in a school.

    As to the utility of standardised tests, I believe it is not so much the concept as its implementation that needs to be looked at. A standardised test by definition is one that caters to each and every is (meant) to be designed with utmost research and care that reflects the diversity and variety of learners and styles. The absence of standardisation by the authorities is surely no reason to throw the very valuable concept out? The authorities ought to be thrown out, I would say.

    Padmanabha Rao

  6. In my opinion, it is a much better idea to use the 180 days of school more wisely, than to create a longer school year, like some people propose. Many children are in school from the time they are born, (daycare), up until their mid-twenties. What we, as teachers, need to do is find a way to make learning more enjoyable.

  7. It is an absolute tragedy that educators must pick and choose what material students must learn versus what students should learn because the unfortunate reality is that what they must learn-- for achievement tests and the like-- does not always match what students would benefit most from learning. The sad fact that teachers' salaries may soon be based on students' performances on tests will not help alleviate this problem.

  8. We have the conversation all the time in our school about how much time is lost out of the classroom. I think the best example is the 3 complete days we just spent for high stakes testing.