Opinion: Sounding the Alarm on School Schedules

Siri Fiske
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By Siri Fiske

American schools are raising a generation of dreamers — daydreamers, that is. Fully 10 percent of teenage students say they are “disengaged” and “discouraged” in the classroom.

There’s a surprising culprit behind this disengagement: the school schedule. Currently, most students shuffle from classroom to classroom with clockwork rigidity, impairing their cognitive development and even compromising their health.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Students taught in flexible learning
environments benefit from improved problem-solving, critical thinking, and
social and leadership skills.

Right now, most schools squeeze learning into unforgiving time blocks. With each shift between classes, students lose valuable learning time. And even more time goes to waste as teachers take roll, pass out papers and assign homework.

Once they’ve settled in, students are often subjected to 60- to 90-minute lectures. Sadly, most of them will retain just 5 percent of the content teachers impart orally, according to a study from the National Training

Siri Fiske

Our system’s meticulous adherence to schedules hurts students’ physical health as well. Students usually sit for over eight hours a day. As a result, their core strength, balance, hand-eye coordination, eye muscle control, spatial awareness and even emotional maturity suffer.

Worse still, the school schedule bears no resemblance to the real world.

Consider how a job would look if it followed the parameters of a school day: Employees would have one hour to work on project A, one hour for project B, and so on — regardless of the effort required for each task. They wouldn’t
have any flexible time to attend a last-minute meeting, meet a client or go to a conference. All the while, coworkers would sit quietly while completing their work — no interaction allowed.

That’s ridiculous. Yet that’s exactly how students are expected to learn. It’s no wonder most young professionals give their high schools poor marks on preparing them for the workforce, according to an Associated Press-Viacom

Fortunately, some innovative schools have demonstrated the promise of a more versatile approach to learning.

At my Washington DC-based Mysa Schools, for example, students arrive any time between 8:30 and 9:30 and spend mornings working on core academics at their own pace, according to their own personalized plan.

Teachers act as coaches, guiding students to learn through hands-on exploration. And students are encouraged to teach each other to solve real-world issues. Rather than reading aloud from a textbook about the ecosystem, Mysa students might be prompted to collaborate on a community strategy for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

The Hawken School in Ohio is also using nontraditional scheduling to fuel student learning. The school’s “Intensives,” allow high schoolers to study a single subject toward the end of each semester. This scheduling lets
students cover a semester’s worth of material in just three weeks.

Students participating in the entrepreneurship program team up with local startups. At the end of the program, students present their ideas to business leaders, gaining mentors who can help them long after they

That’s a far better way for students to learn. Students retain three-fourths of what they discover on their own — but retention jumps to 85 percent when they pass knowledge to peers.

What’s more, students who learn collaboratively improve their confidence, strengthen their communication skills, become more responsible and are more likely to consider different opinions.

It’s obvious that the current educational system, with its suffocating, factory-like schedule, is failing students. It’s time to embrace approaches to education that set students up for real world success.

(Siri Fiske is the founder and head of Mysa Schools.)


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