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  • by Blaine Helwig

When 15 minutes is Lost, It is Expensive!

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

A paramount issue in any professional field is identifying key factors that highly influence performance outcomes. In public education, an important factor that impacts student outcomes is the total time of academic student engagement per school day.

House Bill 2610 – a State of Texas legislative bill stipulates that during the 2016-17 school year – students must be engaged at school for a yearly total of 75,600 minutes, and the legislation specifies 420 minutes as one school day. Hence, if a typical elementary school day begins at 7:45 A.M. and ends at 3:00 P.M., a child is physically at school for a total of 7 hours and 15 minutes (i.e. 435 minutes) – easily surpassing the legislative daily requirement of 420 minutes.

But, how much time is the student engaged in academic learning?

A breakdown of an elementary student’s day in a typical Texas elementary school

The table shown below illustrates a typical 4th grade elementary student’s normal school day with a specific time for all engagement activities in comparison to the core academic engagement. As is readily shown, a student’s time at school each day is 435 minutes, but he is actively engaged for only 315 minutes per day in core academic activities.

The fact that a child is provided 315 minutes (i.e. 5 hours 15 minutes) for core academics in no way guarantees that the child is actively engaged in academic learning for that time period. To approach the maximum student learning time, the classroom teacher must be highly efficient and effective with both time and instructional management as well as classroom student management.

Let’s assume a teacher loses 15 minutes per school day during the daily core academic time allotment each day for the entire 177 days of the school year. So, if a classroom teacher losses 15 minutes per day, the total lost learning time in core academics is 2,655 minutes (i.e. 44.25 hours). As computed above, a typical 4th grader’s core academic time each day is 315 minutes (i.e. 5.25 hours). Consequently, the loss of 15 minutes of academic instructional time each day equates to a total yearly loss of a little less than 8.5 school days.

Conclusion, every 15 minutes of academic time lost consistently each day equates to a total loss of learning time of 8.5 school days over the course of the school year. The child was NOT absent. On the contrary, it is highly probably the child was at school for those 8.5 days. But, for every 15 minutes lost learning engagement per day, the child was absent for a corresponding 8.5 school days.

It should be noted that the loss of 15 minutes per day every day in the academic block is not surprising in the least. As a former principal, that loss of time would not be unusual since every teacher will always lose transition time between activities and minutes lost in preparation delays. In fact, 15 minutes is very reasonable and would indicate a highly organized and capable classroom teacher.

But, if a classroom teacher is not highly efficient and organized and possesses poor classroom management, then the average daily instructional academic loss may be 30 minutes or 17 school days lost. I have visited Title 1 elementary schools where a conservative estimate of student non engagement due to poor classroom management is upwards to 1 hour a day or equivalently, 34 school days per year (i.e. 8.5 x 4). Essentially, the child is not attending school for about a month and ten school days per year – although the student may have perfect daily attendance for the school year.

In light of this analysis, school principals across the country must focus on training classroom teachers in efficient and effective classroom management and highly structured and organized daily routines. Classroom teachers need to be cognizant on the importance of the use of lost instructional time in their classrooms. The children are not losing those school days during the month of May but over the course of the academic school year, and the learning consequences are dire for students attending inefficiently operated elementary campuses.

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