As I’ve watched the Olympics, I’m sure I’m like many people around the country, marveling at the athletes’ abilities and the amount of time these athletes must have dedicated in order to become the top athletes in their sports. Of course, I quickly related that back to my own athletic career which ended rather unceremoniously in high school and was reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers where Gladwell writes about the “10,000 Hour Rule.” That rule, he says, means that to succeed in a field has little to do with talent and more to do with practice, and that it takes 10,000 hours – or 20 hours a week over 10 years – to truly master a skill. There is no doubt that these athletes have spent that much time, or much, much, more practicing and honing their skills in order to become among the elite in their games.
In education, however, we do not push for the same when it comes to knowledge. To put the current school schedule into context, students have 1,170 hours in school each year, and 35% of that time is lost to non-instructional tasks. So how much time are students actually gaining new knowledge and reinforcing it? Over the course of a thirteen year school career – kindergarten through twelfth grade – that translates to 9,887 hours, short of the 10,000 hours that Gladwell says it takes to master one skill, never mind the many skills that are necessary in today’s world.
Expanding learning time in school has the potential to help close that gap, which is particularly important for students in high-poverty communities where parents often do not have resources to supplement a child’s education with out-of-school tutoring and athletic lessons. With more time in school, teachers can individualize instruction and students can spend time on a subject that truly engages and interests them – whether it is science, music, athletics, or technology.
We have been watching the elite of our country succeed in sports over the past two weeks, and we know that a key piece of what got them there was time – time to learn, time to practice, and time to do it all over again. If we know that time is a key to success, when will we start giving our children the time they need to be successful in today’s world?