More hours in the school day for teachers as well as students can lead to improved academic achievement, according to a new report that studies 17 schools across the nation that give teachers more time for collaboration and professional development.

The average American teacher spends less than 20 percent of school time outside the classroom – about seven hours per week – according to “Rethinking Teacher Time,” a report released Wednesday by the National Center on Time and Learning, a nonprofit group based in Boston that promotes expanding the regular school day.

Time for collaboration and professional development is more important than ever with the introduction of the Common Core state standards because teachers are “on the frontiers of both unpacking and applying the new standards,” according to the researchers. “Teachers are becoming the experts, and they can both learn from and with one another,” the researchers said. The report emphasizes that the extra time must be focused on school goals and involve peer-to-peer learning.

The schools in the study were chosen because they allowed teachers twice the average amount of school time outside the classroom, their students’ academic achievement was higher than neighboring schools, at least half of their students were from low-income families, and they had “demonstrated significant growth in student performance outcomes since they began an expanded learning schedule.”

One of those schools is the Preuss School in San Diego. This isn’t the first time Preuss – a charter school where 93 percent of its 841 students are from low-income families – has been recognized. For three years in a row Preuss, which serves grades 6–12, has been chosen by Newsweek as the top transformative high school in the nation. Its school year is 1,352 hours long compared to the national average of 1,170 hours.

The report considered six teacher development practices that promote better student achievement: collaborative lesson planning; embedded professional development that includes schoowide workshops and team-based professional learning; summer training; data analysis; individualized coaches and peer observation of classroom teaching.

Preuss schedules a later starting time for students on Fridays so teachers can collaborate and learn from each other every week in 105-minute sessions.

“In our Friday morning sessions, we want to model what we see in each classroom,” Principal Scott Barton told the researchers. “It’s the idea that we learn more collaboratively than we do individually.” For example, in one Friday session, science and social studies teachers modeled lessons that aligned with the Common Core as their colleagues played the role of students.

English teacher Jen Gabay told the researchers that “our work is tough, but I’ve worked here for over 10 years because I know everyone here is working toward the same mission and I can go to any of my colleagues with a problem or question.”

The report recommends that policy makers:

* Advance polices that allow schools to allocate more time for teacher collaboration and training;

* Fund high-quality, school-embedded professional learning opportunities;

* Support job-embedded professional development when training for the Common Core;

* Integrate and emphasize teacher feedback when developing new evaluation systems;

* Fund efforts to support and retain new teachers.

 

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