Some of the nation’s schoolteachers get a lot more time for planning lessons than others. A new analysis found that elementary school teachers in Montgomery County, Md., top the list, getting more planning time than their counterparts in 147 large U.S. school districts.
They get seven hours a week — an average of 84 minutes a day — for planning lesson content, a critical aspect of teaching, according to an examination of teacher contracts and schools district policies released Tuesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).
“To my view, it’s a sign of school districts putting the emphasis on the right things, that teachers need time to not only plan their own lessons but more importantly the opportunity to work with other teachers,” said Kate Walsh, president of the NCTQ, a nonprofit advocacy and research group that specializes in teacher evaluation and teacher workforce policies.
Walsh compared planning time to getting ready to perform in a play.
“It helps teachers rehearse and make sure the time is going to go well,” she said. “They get feedback from other teachers about how they delivered similar content and what worked and what didn’t work.”
The NCTQ analysis relied on its own database of teacher contracts. The organization also looked at the length of the minimum scheduled teacher workday, finding that the average was 7½ hours. Henrico County, Va., and Sioux Falls in South Dakota had workdays of more than eight hours, the longest.
The organization’s database includes information from the nation’s 60 largest districts and the biggest in each state, as well as districts that are part of the Council of the Great City Schools or have won the Broad Prize for Urban Education.
The union representing teachers in Montgomery County sharply criticized the data used for the planning-time comparisons, saying the time listed for Montgomery does not reflect an understanding of its negotiated agreement.
Tom Israel, director of the Montgomery County Education Association, said elementary school teachers get just three hours and 45 minutes a week — an average of 45 minutes a day — for individually managed planning time.
The seven-hour weekly figure cited in the study includes mandated meetings and trainings, Israel said, so it is not a true measure or a fair point of comparison, he said.
“You talk to any elementary school teacher in Montgomery County and they will say they have three hours and 45 minutes of planning time, and they will tell you it’s nowhere near enough to provide a good instructional program,” he said.
Kency Nittler, who conducted the NCTQ analysis, said she standardized the data because of the large number of districts. Some other contracts she studied also referred to administrative meetings or other types of structured time as teacher planning.
“I think certainly the union has a point about nuance, but I think it’s still informative,” Nittler said.
In neighboring Prince George’s County, elementary-school teachers had five hours and 50 minutes of planning time each week — an average of 70 minutes a day — with 30 of those minutes set aside daily for “uninterrupted planning time.”
Theresa Mitchell Dudley, president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, said she had not yet reviewed the analysis but noted that comparisons across districts are difficult to make. What is important is not just the quantity of planning time, she said, but also the quality.
“Some of that is consumed by preparation for standardized tests,” she said.
The analysis showed that teachers in Virginia’s Prince William County had 45 minutes of planning time daily and Fairfax County teachers had 39 minutes a day. The most common amount of planning time for elementary school teachers nationwide is 45 minutes a day.
Among teachers of middle school and high school students, Chicago’s teachers had the most planning time, with 100 minutes daily, the analysis showed.
Secondary teachers in Montgomery County get one period a day for planning — roughly 45 to 55 minutes — an amount similar to many other districts.