02/05/2015 03:51 pm ET Updated Apr 07, 2015

Time and Time Again

Last week, the Boston School Committee approved a school day extension for middle and elementary students. Time is a popular topic in education reform, and it should be. However, the conversation about time needs to go beyond extending it to revolutionizing how we use it.

For the past one hundred plus years we have used time to batch process learners, as if they all need the same experiences. Today the advent of educational technology, the higher bar set by deeper learning outcomes that demand applied experiences in the real world, and a strong social trend toward more personalization everywhere allows -- or maybe demands -- that we renovate schooling to align with the modern era and the science and research about how young people learn.

This shift will demand a deep investment in varying educational engagement in ways consistent with research on teaching, learning, and the developing brain. Where are their strengths? Where do they struggle? What do they already know on a very specific level, so that we can address what else they need to know without wasting time on what they already grasp? How are our notions of batch processing and our enchantment with standardized treatments challenged when viewed in the light of reconsiderations of time? What assumptions about how learners progress, at what pace they progress and with whom they progress are called into question when we seriously reconsider the nature, definition and uses of time? If learning happens at lots of different times, does it also follow that it can happen in lots of different places and with lots of different people? And, maybe most importantly, to keep time from being another way back to the gaps we seek to close, what kind of unequal resources do we need to apply to get equitable results within reasonably close amounts of time?

Simply adding more time for everyone is an effective solution -- maybe a sufficient one -- if we are to depend on slightly improved outcomes we are getting from our traditional educational processes. However, using time differently and differentially depending on what science and research suggests works for different kinds of learners, is a way forward if we want to improve our outcomes more significantly in terms of what is learned, who learns and who succeeds. The Boston educational community has an opportunity to do what we are famous for nationally -- building on good ideas and leading further innovation. The "time" is ripe for this kind of responsible, innovative leadership.

This notion of more flexible use of time and using it differently for different learners and learning challenges, is like a coat hanger in a messy closet. When you pull on it, a number of other "hangers" come with it, inextricably tangled. In addition to the issues of when and at what pace people learn, we must reconsider with whom, where and through which modalities we drive education.

Our Foundation supported efforts of Mass2020 and many others to lead the nation in extended learning. There is no better place to take this notion to its logical and necessary next level -- vastly different uses of time.