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What Happens During the School Day?: Time Diaries from a National Sample of Elementary School Teachers


by Jodie Roth, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Miriam Linver & Sandra Hofferth — 2003

The education literature contains many studies of what happens in schools and classrooms, but no documentation of what actually happens to children during an entire school day in a nationally-representative sample of students in the US. This study presents data collected from a nationally-representative sample of teachers of first through fifth graders (N=553). Teachers completed a time diary, recording exact beginning and ending times for all the target student's school activities for a randomly selected day. We examined students' total time in school and their activities while there. We found wide variation in the length of the school day based on the student and classroom characteristics. Students attending school for the longest day were significantly more likely to be White and have fewer special needs, and to have smaller classes with a larger percentage of White students and a smaller percentage of students of other races than students attending for less time daily. We grouped students' activities at school into four categories that accounted for all but 9 minutes of the school day: academic, enrichment, recess, and maintenance activities. We found variations in how students spent their time based on student, family, and classroom characteristics. Teachers of African American students reported spending more time on academic subjects, and less time on enrichment and recess activities than teachers of white students. The same pattern emerged for teachers of more advantaged students, and classrooms with a larger percentage of White students. Results are discussed in terms of school reform efforts and inequality issues.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 105 Number 3, 2003, p. 317-343
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11018, Date Accessed: 5/29/2017 4:59:51 PM

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About the Author
  • Jodie Roth
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    Dr. JODIE L. ROTH is a Research Scientist at the National Center for Children and Families at Teachers College, Columbia University.  She received her Ph.D. from the Combined Program in Education and Psychology at the University of Michigan in 1995.  She was recently a Post-Doctoral Fellow of the MacArthur Research Network on the Family and the Economy.  She is interested in how programs and institutions, such as school, affect development.  Her research currently focuses on how prevention and youth development programs in schools and the community can promote healthy development. 
  • Jeanne Brooks-Gunn
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    Dr. JEANNE BROOKS-GUNN is the Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Child Development and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is the first director of the National Center for Children and Families, which was founded in 1992, at Teachers College. In addition, she is Co-Director of the Institute for Child and Family Policy at Columbia University, founded in 1999. She received a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of over 400 published articles and 15 books. Dr. Brooks-Gunn's specialty is policy-oriented research focusing on family and community influences upon the development of children, youth and families. Her research centers on designing and evaluating interventions aimed at enhancing the well-being of children living in poverty and associated conditions.
  • Miriam Linver
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    Dr. MIRIAM R. LINVER is a Research Scientist at the National Center for Children and Families, Teachers College, Columbia University, and was recently a Post-Doctoral Fellow of the MacArthur Research Network on the Family and the Economy.  She holds a Ph.D. in Family Studies and Human Development from the University of Arizona.  Her research interests include the effects of poverty on child development in the context of family environments, and education- and occupation- related decisions at the transition to young adulthood.  Her recent publications include Linver, M.R., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Kohen, D.E. (in press). Family processes as pathways from income to young children's development. Developmental Psychology, and Linver, M.R., Fuligni, A.S., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (in press).  "How do parents matter?:  Income, interactions, and intervention during early childhood" in D. Conley & K. Albright (Eds.), After the bell:  Family background and education success.  NY:  Routledge.
  • Sandra Hofferth
    University of Maryland
    E-mail Author
    Dr. SANDRA L. HOFFERTH is Professor, Department of Family Studies, University of Maryland, College Park.  Her research focuses on paternal investments in children, American children’s use of time, adolescent childbearing, and public assistance policy.  Recent publications include “Did Welfare Reform Work? Implications for 2002 and Beyond,” in Contexts:  Understanding People in Their Social Worlds, 1(1):45-51, 2002, and with Lori Reid,  “Early Childbearing and Children’s Achievement and Behavior over Time,”  in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health (formerly Family Planning Perspectives) 34(1): 41-49, 2002.
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