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As districts across the country implement Common Core, educators – such as these in Elverson, Pennsylvania, Calistoga, California, and Wilmington, Delaware – are calling for a restructuring of the school day so that students spend more time in each class. Instead of the typical class period of about 45 minutes, schools are lengthening classes to upwards of 90 minutes to cover all the material and allow teachers to change the way they teach to meet the new requirements.

Common Core, a set of standards in math and English in place in over 40 states, only directs what students should know at the end of each grade, but it’s also affecting how lessons are taught.

Jamie Wall, a math teacher at Brooklawn Middle School in Parsippany, New Jersey, used her state’s shift to Common Core to fulfill a teaching dream – her math students spending the entire period working collaboratively in groups – but says that her school’s schedule isn’t ideal for this kind of teaching.

“From the beginning of my teaching career, I didn’t want to just be up there and teach them,” said Wall. “I wanted to get them into groups and get them talking to each other about math concepts. I wanted them to develop math strategies and solve problems together. That all works very well for Common Core.”

Related: Tennessee’s Common Core backtrack strands teachers, students

“I teach in 40 minute periods,” added Wall. “This type of collaborative learning can be done in 40 minutes, but it’s hard.”

Under the Common Core State Standards, students will be asked to spend more time learning certain math concepts and will skip others. The idea is to give them a stronger foundation for algebra. (Photo: Sarah Garland)

Other Common Core math supporters, often pointing to Japanese classrooms, have suggested that teachers could spend upwards of 15 minutes just discussing the ins and outs of a single problem.

“We haven’t heard a call specifically for block scheduling,” said Donna Harris-Aikens – Director of Education Policy and Practice at the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union – referring to a scheduling technique that doubles the typical 45-minute class period to 90 minutes.

“But what educators are calling for is more time. More time if we want to have kids do things like work collaboratively but also more time for educators to talk to each other about what changes might need to be made in what is taught and how it is taught,” she added.

Related: Common Core math experts say teachers need to stop using shortcuts and math ‘tricks’

“Most of the high performing schools we have seen do not maintain the 40- or 45-minute block schedule,” said Jennifer Davis, cofounder and president of the National Center on Time and Learning, a non-profit dedicated to redesigning and expanding school time. “In those schools, when you walk into a classroom you see four or five groups of kids, some are getting support through high-quality computer programs, some are working in a small group with a teacher and some are working in small groups just among themselves. It is very difficult to do that kind of rotation in a typical 45-minute block.”

Some see scheduling techniques that reduce the number of class periods a teacher teaches as not just an opportunity to change how classes are taught but as a way to add planning time for teachers.

Davis says this increased planning is critical as schools take on the Common Core.

“Teachers need to be grappling with the standards together,” said Davis. “They need to be sharing lesson plans and reviewing each other’s lesson plans. They need to be coming back together after being in the classroom and sharing what’s working and what’s not working, who got it and who didn’t get it. This kind of collaborative learning on the part of teachers is essential to the success of Common Core implementation.”

Related: What makes a good Common Core math question?

Both Harris-Aikens and Davis say scheduling decisions need to be made at the local level.

“Honestly, I think it is a school-by-school decision,” said Harris-Aikens. “Take a real look at what your kids are doing during the day and think about tweaks like alternating days, block scheduling, or the semester plan.”

Harris-Aikens advises schools to ask parents and students what they think before major schedule changes.

“Students, especially your high school students, will have strong opinions,” she added.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about Common Core.

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Emmanuel Felton is a former staff writer. Prior to joining The Hechinger Report, he covered education, juvenile justice and child services for the New York World. He received a bachelor’s degree from...

Letters to the Editor

15 Letters

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  1. This article brings up an old dilemma about teaching in blocks vs. periods. Blocks are advantageous for labs and other performance activities that require an extended arc to be effective. Shorter and more frequent classes are better for building discrete skills and have traditionally been favored for math in particular. This teacher is talking about learning math concepts in groups – that 45 minutes is not enough time to develop the type of conversation needed to solve a complex problem. I don’t think either structure is the best fit: these problems require experimentation and gestation time. Pose a problem with multiple solutions and pathways on one day, and carry it over for several days, devoting maybe 15 minutes each day towards the discussion. A multiple session approach reflects the real world more accurately, whether in business, engineering, or other math applications. And don’t lose those discrete math skills – kids need time to practice them.

  2. We don’t need more time to teach common core! and I am a teacher. We need to get rid of common core as quickly as possible. it’s nothing more than political agenda being pumped at our kids and there is NOTHING that it does that is in any way new or different or especially better!! it all about money!!

  3. The school day doesn’t necessarily have to end at 3 PM. Weekends, Holidays, after school, half-days, are perfect times to learn what has been studied in class.

  4. “From the beginning of my teaching career, I didn’t want to just be up there and teach them,” said Wall. “I wanted to get them into groups and get them talking to each other about math concepts.”

    So let me get this straight–you’ve got an “expert” in the classroom, the teacher, who doesn’t want to teach. Instead, she’s going to “facilitate” students to teach other students–mind you, most students are utterly confused about math, don’t really care, and probably didn’t do their homework–and they’re going to teach each other?

    When a teacher pulls out the “student collaboration” card, that’s code for a teacher who is unprepared, doesn’t know how to teach, or lazy. Why are we doing this to kids? How many adults would pay money to go to university to “not be taught” by the professor and to sit around with other students trying to learn something on their own? Stop the idiocy!

  5. Common Core lessons are over-planned and require paring…That’s what I was told when administrators gave me the curriculum. So that’s what I do, and it works fairly well. Most of it is scripted, which I basically toss out. I’m not going to stand in front of my kids and read a script to them because it’s tedious and unauthentic.

  6. If class time is increased that will require more staff. More staff will require greater funding. School boards are not inclined to look upon budget increases as a positive, therefore the possibility of increasing staff size and budget is unlikely.

    What is not unlikely however is the continued responsibility and blame being placed on teachers for failing to meet unrealistic expectations, given the inadequate resources to meet them. This will result in greater difficulty in retaining current staff and recruiting future teachers. Eventually this will lead to the collapse of the American public school system, a system that has been the backbone of the economic and social progress for a century and a half. A additional effect will be the rise of an educational elite and their control of an increasingly less educated citizenry until American democracy will become a thing of the past.

  7. Increased time for common core is code for “let’s decrease time for physical education, social studies, and the arts.” All of our disciplines need to share the time we have and make that time intentional/meaningful to create well-rounded students. Over the last 100 years we have continuously increased time for this and that, throwing a balanced curriculum out of balance and then returning a few years later to correct the imbalance.

  8. Having been introduced to the Common Core math long before its general introduction, I can assure you it has nothing to do with money and everything to do with deepening the learning experience in math classrooms in the U.S. Common Core or no Common Core, we need to provide more math experiences in the classroom that build understanding and engage students, rather than bore them and intimidate them. U.S. math scores have been dismal for decades now. Common Core is just an effort to change that, and to allow states to have a “core” of content with which to design their curriculums around. I am in the camp that 45 minutes is not enough time for the rich, engaging problem solving we are talking about. I would recommend as a compromise to those who are reluctant to change, to try finding a way to double one period a week, or add 25 more minutes to one period a week. That way, a teacher can plan a more involved collaborative learning experience on that day.

  9. To address Mark’s point about “idiocy” and to speak as a middle school math teacher, the real assessment of good teaching is how well teachers can “enable” learning. Learning happens more effectively when we “enable discovery”, not when we act like experts in front of the room. These classes may look disorderly, but discoveries are happening and the best teachers know how to make that happen. I am not saying that disorganized group work is always best, but being able to manage discovery fosters retention and a deeper level of learning.

  10. I’m at a school that has block scheduling; each class is 90 minutes. Common Core math involves activities in groups and wastes a lot of time. In one activity, students had to “prove” the theorem that the angles in a triangle sum to 180 degrees by cutting a triangle into three parts and reassembling them so that the three vertices lined up to form a straight line, glue those pieces to another piece of paper, color the three pieces and write their statement/conclusion underneath. First of all, that isn’t a proof. Second, such demonstration could be made in at most 10 minutes rather than taking up valuable class time. I see a lot of waste that passes for “deep learning/understanding”. Sorry. Not buying this one either Hechinger Reports.

  11. Students need to be able to work independently and in collaboration with others–that’s what will happen to them “in the real world”. Successful districts/schools allow teachers the freedom to pick what types of things are best taught by direct instruction and which things work really well when done in groups. If “wasting time” is happening in someone’s classroom, there’s something wrong (either with the instruction or the “lesson”), block scheduled or not. In my experience teaching in several different types of schools, there is enough time to balance everything, if not on a daily basis, on a weekly basis.

  12. Kim, I completely disagree. I think it depends on the kind of work. Companies like Google, Autodesk and many other high tech, engineering companies require multiple collaborative groups to create and develop products. Engineers, artists and marketers work together frequently. They won’t hire people who can’t work in teams.

  13. I hate block scheduling. My 9th grader is at a high school that works that way. It is nuts. It means only doing math 1 semester out of the year unless he goes at a faster pace.

    It means wasting a lot of that 90 minutes doing homework or watching movies.

    I would prefer about 50 minute periods where the teacher teaches and the students work hard the whole period. Then off to another. The break will keep the students fresh and the change of subject matter will keep them interested.

    It teach at the college level, and I find that students lose interest after an hour regardless of the activity.

    I also completely agree with the earlier comment that 90 minute periods at the K-8 level will simply squeeze out the arts. The best part of middle school for my children was orchestra. Both learned to play an instrument, and they loved it. I would hate to seem them bored in English and math classes that are too long and not able to do orchestra at all. They would hate school. Why would that be good?

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