Which school do you want to support?
In education, as in most everything, the ultimate scarce resource is time. Who “owns” the time spent in education, and how much is it worth? What does it mean to spend time well in education?
As discussed in Lesson 4.3, there are roughly a thousand instructional hours in an American school year. Everything that a school system does ultimately matters to students (or doesn’t) because of things that happen during those 1,000 hours. What’s the rough per-student cost of an instructional hour? It depends on your school district, and it depends on how you count, but in California in 2015-16, on average districts spent roughly $11,000 per student per year. So the average rough price of instructional time in California public schools is…
Rule of thumb: The value of students' time is about $11 per hour
…about eleven bucks per student per hour.
This rule of thumb can be handy for evaluating the rough dollar value of things that take time or save time in California schools. What is the instructional time cost of a one-hour bus delay that affects 50 students? How much instructional time cost could be recovered through smoother transitions between classes? How can we think about the instructional time cost of administering a standardized test, or of taking kids on a field trip? Putting a dollar value on instructional time per student doesn’t make tradeoffs simple, but it can help make them more concrete. It is also a helpful reminder that students’ time has value.
The clock spins in only one direction; each day, teachers have a limited time to inspire and guide students through their lesson plans. Some teachers make masterful use of their limited minutes with students, advancing the powerful use of time to something of an art form. In Teach Like a Champion and his other work, Doug Lemov describes techniques collected from master teachers that enable them to keep students engaged and learning. His instructional videos have become popular because they are practical. His primary thesis is that teaching skills can be learned and improved, with clear examples.
To do anything well requires preparation, and preparation requires time. In the context of school, teachers need to know their material and have a solid plan to teach it. In many countries, school systems set aside time [PDF] in the school day and school calendar for teachers to collaborate and prepare.
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