Daniel Pink ‘Q and A’: Rearranging the school day is a moral issue

School leaders should start with gradual schedule changes to boost student performance
By: | January 15, 2020
Opening keynote speaker Daniel Pink told the FETC audience that students are wired to work on independent, self-directed and artistic projects in the afternoon.Opening keynote speaker Daniel Pink told the FETC audience that students are wired to work on independent, self-directed and artistic projects in the afternoon.

Not all time is created equal, says Daniel Pink, a bestselling author who writes about more effective approaches to work, creativity, business and learning.

Research shows that a student’s ability to learn is elevated earlier in the day, dips around the middle of the day, and rebounds later in the afternoon and evening, Pink says. For school administrators, the daylong ebb and flow of students’ cognitive abilities means educators need to think about rearranging classes, start times, testing and recess in ways that are more suitable for learning.

Pink’s latest book, When, examines the impact of the time of the day on decisions and performance. He detailed how to schedule school to improve student achievement in Wednesday’s opening keynote at the Future of Education Technology Conference® and in the following interview with District Administration. 

Describe an ideal school day schedule.

There are some starting points for school districts. One is for elementary schools to do the analytic work in the morning—math, language arts, science. The reason for that is all times of day are not created equal.

And it’s extremely important for vulnerable kids. The evidence shows the positive effects are great. We don’t know why. It could be that because so many other factors are holding those kids back, it’s a benefit if you just remove one factor.

And for high school? 

At the high school level, just start at 9 a.m.

In their mid-teens to mid-20s, people wake up late and go to sleep later. It’s biological.

How can educators capitalize on creativity later in the day?

This is a good time for students to work on independent and self-directed projects. I’m a firm believer in integrating arts education. So have choir, theater, music and fine arts in the afternoon because those things are really important.

School leaders can’t press a button and change their schedules. Where do they start?

We can’t remake schedules from top to bottom in a perfect way, so we have to look for things that are doable. One thing that’s doable is for school boards to step up and say every pediatrician in America tells us we shouldn’t start high school before 8:30 a.m.

We can also bring a little more deliberation to the actual schedule of the day. It’s not merely a transportation or logistical issue; there are pedagogical issues. Maybe that means deploying math teachers to do two-hour sessions every other day.

You have to look for small things that you can do. In some ways, this is a moral question: Are we going to make education policy based on what’s good for students or what’s convenient for adults?

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