Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

We often use the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) to compare student performance of our children to those around the world.  And yet, if we compare the working conditions of teachers in some of the countries with the highest scores to those conditions we face here, stark differences emerge.

Author Thomas Friedman studied education in Shanghai, China, for instance (a place that consistently has some of the highest PISA scores), and found teachers have significantly more time for planning and their own learning. Take the case of elementary school teacher Teng Jiao, who works a school day from 8:35am to 4:30pm, and typically teaches three 35-minute lessons.  Friedman writes the rest of the teacher’s day “is spent on lesson planning, training online or with his team, having other teachers watch his class and tell him how to improve and observing the classrooms of master teachers.”

According to a 2010 report released by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, educators from other countries have on average 15-25 hours per week to plan, while in the US, that number is 3-5 hours per week. Authors Linda Darling-Hammond, Ruth Chung Wei, and Alethea Andree describe the need for at least 10 hours every week for teachers to use for curriculum planning alone.  The authors write, “In high achieving nations, teachers’ professional learning is a high priority and teachers are treated as professionals.”

Teacher Timothy Walker writes “Taught by Finland,” a blog describing the stark differences between education in the US and the country often referenced by educational researchers as the lighthouse for performance on PISA.  Last year, Walker published an article in the Atlantic, “When Finnish Teachers Work in America’s Public Schools,” where a former Finnish teacher describes working in an American school.  “I feel rushed, nothing gets done properly; there is very little joy, and no time for reflection or creative thinking.”

Teacher planning time matters.  Winston Churchill and others made famous the phrase, “failing to plan, is planning to fail.”  That’s why a reduction in planning time hurts the profession of teaching, and the outcomes we want for our schools and our community.