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Aurora Institute

Next Generation Schedules and School Calendars

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

generationA Denver Public Schools staffer asked me the other day, “Why aren’t schools innovating more, even when they have waivers that come with innovation status?”

A number of elements of our system seem intransigent – annual calendars, bell schedules, sequencing of courses, to name a few. We are probably going to have to find examples of innovating around each one to free up our minds for what is possible.

For example, we’ve highlighted PASE Prep, which is experimenting with eliminating the bell schedule. Anyone know of another example of schools that are freeing themselves from bells and the idea of students moving from one course to another at the same time for the next dose of instruction?

(An aside on the use of language: According to Ed Week, kids moving from one class to another is called platooning, which is a bit disconcerting. There are so many collective nouns we could have built upon to describe children moving onto the next learning task. How about fleeting, herding, quivering, swarming or flocking? Language that captures that incredible energy of children learning might inspire us – think of a chattering of starlings, or a murmuration of starlings, filling up the skies with their dance?)

In a new report, Cost-Effective Strategies for Extending Learning Time and Expanding Opportunity in K-12 Education, Generation Schools describes how they reconstructed the daily and annual schedule to provide 30% more learning time while keeping annual working time for teachers the same as the traditional model. And they are getting results.

In Generation Schools’ Denver site, by the end of the first year of implementation, the ninth graders were seen as high growth under Colorado’s accountability system and the “the number of students who were five or more grade levels behind in math and reading was reduced by half, from 80 percent to 40 percent.” That’s why it is seen as a cost-effective strategy.

Generation schools have six elements:

  • A daily schedule with Foundation courses in the morning, Advocacy Groups mid-day, Studio courses in the afternoon and Intensives during the year. Teachers’ roles are changed as they serve in one of three roles – Foundation, Studio and Intensive.
  • Staggered teacher time over the year, allowing school to keep running while some teachers take vacation and participate in professional development.
  • Integrated curriculum organized into either Humanities or STEM.
  • Designated time for professional development and teacher collaboration while students are intensives.
  • Redesigned college and career guidance into Intensives for two months each year.
  • Support for health and wellness in Advocacy Groups.

Honestly take the time to read the entire report and talk with your staff about what’s preventing you from unlocking yourself from the annual calendar.

I’ve never forgotten my visit to Generation Schools years ago. I knew immediately that they had something that we needed to export to other schools. And its time that competency-based schools took a look at Generation Schools to see if we can provide more time, support and ways to help students apply their learning.