Back to School: A Time to Rethink Time

Milton Chen:

Another year has passed, and American schools are still captives of an outdated calendar. It’s mid-August, and the world of education is awakening from its three-month slumber. The seasons of schooling set the schedules for close to seven million K-12 educators and staff and fifty-five million students and families. Yet our schools and universities stand alone in hewing to a calendar with a long summer vacation added to holiday and spring breaks. No other sector of our society — government, business, transportation, health care, manufacturing — considers its year to be composed of 180 days or 36 weeks.
Add to this “outer limit” the “inner limit” of the 50-minute period of most secondary schools, and we have a pigeonholed system of schooling. This time frame was born out of the Carnegie Unit, which requires 120 hours of class time for high school courses. (Five such periods each week for 31 weeks achieves the 120-hour requirement.) The Carnegie Unit grew out of the early work of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, endowed by industrialist Andrew Carnegie in 1906, and surely it’s time for education to leave behind a 100-year-old idea.