One way to develop common ground amongst people of different beliefs is to look for universal principles that all can appreciate.

      By Scott Phelps

      I know there are real differences between the left and the right, including with regards to education. I wonder whether both conservative and liberal folks could agree, however, with what seems to be a simple principle: the importance of children experiencing some hardship in their lives. I think both sides would agree with this because most parents remember difficult experiences from their childhoods that they see as valuable lessons that helped shape them to become the people they are today.

      Increasing time spent on learning

      I think where this principle could help in the field of education is with regards to the issue of time spent on learning.

      I see parents in both relatively liberal and relatively conservative households who understand this, and who enroll their children in such time-intensive programs as the International Baccalaureate program at Blair, in college courses while in high school, or who pay for tutors to come to their households to make sure their children spend more time on learning. I well remember the efforts of Bill Creim, a Pasadena Unified advocate, who understood the importance of this principle in trying to raise student achievement. Under his influence, the Pasadena Educational Foundation started having its summer school in Northwest Pasadena so children there could more conveniently benefit from that increase in the time spent on learning. He used to say that it seems like increasing the time spent learning is one of the few ways to address the differences in achievement amongst students of different socioeconomic statuses. For this reason, he was a major force in establishing Jackson Elementary’s after-school clubs where intensive learning could continue past the normal end of the school day. I learned recently that San Rafael Elementary has established an Innovation Club after school. This principle can also be seen in operation at the arts charter school in Duarte, where parents pay (“donate”) for their children to attend conservatories in their field of interest after the regular classes of the school day. Eliot Arts Magnet in PUSD is in the process of establishing these too. There are many other examples of post-school day intensive learning programs at other PUSD schools.

      There are large differences in the out-of-school lives of students of lower and upper socioeconomic statuses. This could include the time spent studying (or even having a quiet place to work) and in the amount of access to private tutoring. Despite what those who love to put all the responsibility on schools say, there is simply little evidence that just doing things “differently” during the school day would result in a substantial decrease in the differences in academic achievement that are highly correlated with socioeconomic status. We are going to have to provide more ways to increase the time spent on intensive, focused learning outside of the regular school day if we hope to help increase the achievement of those students from families of lower socioeconomic statuses. This may, in turn, increase the level of expectations that teachers and schools can have for the curricula of the school day, which may then attract more families of means into the public schools that currently seek higher expectations by enrolling their children in private schools.

      Success is based on time spent on learning

      Since leaving the school board, I have had the great opportunity to see first-hand how important time spent on learning is to student success at PUSD’s Center for Independent Study (CIS Academy).

      In my first semester last spring, I wrote about the strong correlation between the time that my students spent on the curricula and their progress through the curricula. One local policy maker commented that that’s just common sense, and few people even read the article. However, no one in policy positions that I am aware of is talking about this fundamental principle of learning: spending time on learning. In the just-completed Fall 2023 term, this was also very apparent. Instead of graphing the students’ number of assignments completed vs. their time spent on the curricula as I did for last spring’s article, I have graphed their number of courses completed vs. their time spent on these courses:

      CIS, Fall 2023 course data

      (CIS, Fall 2023 course data)

      As before, a linear regression model shows a very strong correlation, this time 0.73. The more time the students spend on their courses, the more courses they complete, and the greater their success in making progress towards completing all of the requirements for graduation.

      Part 2: How CIS Increases Student Responsibility and Flexibility in Education.

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      1. Scott Phelps says:

        Hi Kim, regarding your comment, the ELO program’s intent per CDE:

        “It is the intent of the Legislature that expanded learning programs are pupil-centered, results driven, include community partners, and complement, but do not replicate, learning activities in the regular schoolday and school year.”

        Regarding my comment about policy makers not discussing time spent on learning, I am not really speaking of complementary learning activities that involve community partners and that cannot replicate learning activities that occur in the regular schoolday and school year. I am referring to students spending more time on their regular academic studies, more time that would be necessary to raise achievement levels for many students.

        Hope that clarifies my statement a bit. I can attempt to clarify that further in the next article.

        Thanks for reading!


      2. Kim K says:

        Isn’t additional time for students the reason behind Governor Newsom’s support for the recently started statewide ELO (Expanding Learning Opportunities) funding and requirements?

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