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Should Mandatory "Seat Time" Requirements Exist?

Great companies understand that productivity doesn't necessarily happen on command; perhaps learning doesn't either.

Since public school was made compulsory, there has been a mandatory seat time requirement for graduation that forces students to be in school for 90% of the year in New York...

But is this requirement necessary anymore?

With learning happening in so many different places and ways, sitting in class isn't always the best option for every student and that has been seen during the pandemic.

We already differentiate for learning styles and challenges, why not for lifestyles too?

Who's to say that outside experiential learning or a blended-online self-paced learning environment isn't better for some students?

Often class time becomes a juggling act with large class sizes and kids with varying needs not being met. Some teachers are so overburdened that content seldom moves at the pace or depth that it needs to for all students to get adequate practice to move toward mastery.

Ironically, there are many students who don't come to school who are quite smart. They can pass tests without being present (my brother was one of them two decades ago) and often read and learn on their own time, in their own way. They can do projects at home, go to the library, or take self-paced online courses. With the support or facilitation of a teacher/mentor, a child can sculpt an appropriate learning experience for himself or herself.

If a child and his/her parent establish a better learning environment and can still show mastery of the required skills, why not offer alternatives to the traditional school setting?

It's time for us to consider different options in what the school day looks like. The industrial, cookie-cutter assembly line model of education hardly worked when it started; in today's world, it's downright antiquated and detrimental to student learning and growth.

What if we considered the following:

  • Drop the mandatory seat time or at least redefine what "seat time" is

  • If redefining "seat time", perhaps calling it logged-learning time instead

  • All worthwhile family "field trips" to count as learning experience time with some kind of required project to go with it

  • Consider blended learning environments with accredited online classes

  • Redefine the scope of the school year, to a flexible schedule for daytime hours and also days of the week

  • Offer more choice in the subject areas taught or expected as long as an agreed-upon skill set and core content understanding is mastered by graduation

  • Rather than use grades, use a pass/fail method with detailed feedback against standards and skills outlined in mastery plans

  • Reduce mandated testing and/or "traditional homework" replaced with on-going portfolio development and reflection

  • Allow students and their families to select the schedule that best suits them

  • Allow teachers and administrators to select the schedule that best suits their abilities and lives

  • Implement advisory periods where teachers are responsible for a smaller group of students whom they check in with regularly to monitor progress and answer questions

  • Vary the methods of how teachers/students/parents/administrators communicate the learning and future mastery

  • Keep everything transparent and fluid, flexibly monitoring the progress with the ability to change as needed.

Adult learners make the most of their educational time by being the masters of their choices and content, students and families can benefit from this too.

What's keeping kids in their seats beyond the graduation requirement? Is there any evidence that these requirements improve learning for all students? Where do you stand on this issue?

Please share

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in May 2015 and was updated in June 2020

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