How much instructional time for math?

How much time is “required” for mathematics instruction?  This is probably the question that I get the most.  It is also the topic or question that I have the least amount of resources or research to support.  However, I think there is a common ground that most would agree makes sense. The first one being that without quantity, it is hard to have the quality mathematics instruction that we know is required for all of our students.  The second is that quantity does not ensure quality.  The third, we will get to in a moment.

Screen Shot 2019-09-09 at 1.23.18 PMFirst, let’s jump in. In Iowa, there is not a “required” amount of time. So, we provide what we have as a suggestion.  This is from the publication Adding It Up from the National Research Council 2001. This is a free download from the link above and this is the suggested citation: Adding It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/9822,

In Chapter 11: Conclusions and Recommendations, Section: Giving Time to Instruction it says,

“Giving Time to Instruction

Research indicates that a key requirement for developing proficiency is the opportunity to learn. In many U.S. elementary and middle school classrooms, students are not engaged in sustained study of mathematics. On some days in some classes they are spending little or no time at all on the subject. Mathematical proficiency as we have defined it cannot be developed unless regular time (say, one hour each school day) is allocated to and used for mathematics instruction in every grade of elementary and middle school. Further, we believe the strands of proficiency will not develop in a coordinated fashion unless continual attention is given to every strand. The following recommendation expresses our concern that mathematics be given its rightful place in the curriculum:

Mathematical proficiency as we have defined it cannot be developed unless regular time is allocated to and used for mathematics instruction in every grade of elementary and middle school.

  • Substantial time should be devoted to mathematics instruction each school day, with enough time devoted to each unit and topic to enable students to develop understanding of the concepts and procedures involved. Time should be apportioned so that all strands of mathematical proficiency together receive adequate attention.”

Some will argue with “regular time (say, one hour each school day),” and claim there is no evidence.  I think we can all agree that “substantial” time is needed.

60 min

What does this mean? Substantial means “of considerable importance, size, or worth.” I tend to think of the amount needed to “reasonably get the job done.” I know some will say, well then it can be as little as 30 minutes.  I don’t know if that would pass the considerable importance, size, or worth test.  I have others ask, “can it be less than 60 minutes?” I think the answer is it depends.  It depends on so many factors which is why there isn’t research that makes this topic clear.

So, the third common ground point is we have to make a decision that make sense based on what students need and not for the convenience of schedules and systems.

Option one: follow what the recommendation has been for almost three decades, which is 60 minutes.

Option two: go with local data and evidence. What does your data say? What do the teachers say? What does the evidence say?

Please let me know what you think in the comments below and what is working, is it 30, 45, 60 minutes or more?