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
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
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 poll.
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
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
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.