Time Wasted In School: Outside of Class

It's a common fear I've heard expressed among those who homeschool: too much time is wasted, or more specifically,

“Are we doing as much as the public schooled kids are doing???”

I'm not going to juxtapose these two different modes of education in this post; however, I will give an account of my experience in the public schools in regards to how and where time is spent to illustrate just how much time is wasted in our government-provided education institutions.

I can't speak for everyone's experience in public school, all I can speak on is my own experience in the schools I was in. Now, just what kind of public schools did I attend? According to Newsweek, all three of the high schools in my school district—including the one I attended— are considered to be among the best high schools in the country. As the school district’s website says, “The district has received the State of Ohio’s highest possible rating, Excellent with Distinction, for nine consecutive years, bolstering its statewide reputation for academic and extracurricular excellence.”

I attended the public elementary, middle, and high schools in this top school district. You would be hard-pressed to find better schools in the country. So if there is any public school standard you want to compare your homeschooling with, I would say you can't go wrong with my school district.

And yet, as “perfect” as these schools are, the amount of time wasted is unbelievable.

With this post, I decided I wanted to add up the time spent in school each day, and subtract from that total all the time wasted in order to come up with a rough estimate for the actual amount of time spent being instructed. In other words, how much time is actually spent “learning” from the direct instruction of the school teachers on a given school day? I'll use my high school as an example since I just recently graduated, and it is still fresh in my mind.

Time wasted outside of class

According to the school website, school hours are from 7:55 AM - 2:42 PM, however, what is not factored into that is the time getting ready for school, waiting for the bus, and riding the bus. Buses usually come pretty early in order to get in and get out before the commuting students start showing up. Prepping for school, waiting for the bus, riding the bus, and arriving early at school adds at the very least an additional hour to your time in the public school system.

That gives us a little under 8 total hours a day taken up by school, which seems appropriate since, in theory, public school is supposed to be preparing one for the typical 9-5 job. Of course, this 8 hour total is a bit misleading, as it does not factor in extracurricular activities, such as sports and clubs, which many students participate in.

Since no academic instruction takes place during our 1 hour prepping/arriving time, that leaves us a little under 7 hours spent in the school building. From that number, we have to subtract a half-hour for lunch. There is no instruction during that half-hour, unless you count learning poor manners, and perhaps some new and exotic obscenities to add to your vocabulary.

There are also four-minute intervals between classes to allow students the time to actually walk all the way across the building to get to their next class. My school was so big, you rarely had enough time to actually stop at your locker to retrieve the books you needed, and to then get to your class (thankfully, the backpack ban was repealed my Junior year.) That may sound far-fetched. How hard can it be to walk across a building in 4 minutes? But when the halls are packed wall-to-wall with over 2,000 students, punctual arrivals become much more difficult.

Some people had the bad luck of having multiple classes on opposite ends of the building, and they would have to carom back and forth between them. With so many students, shoulder-to-shoulder stand-still human traffic jams in the hallways were a common occurrence, which would always slow you down. Additionally, many would stop to socialize with their peers, causing further delay. However, I will not factor in all the times students—including myself—were late for class. I'll just assume that these four minute breaks between classes were always four minutes.

Since there were 8 periods, that means there were 7 breaks. That's roughly another half-hour in the school building not spent learning. We've already lost an hour off of our original 7 spent in the building, and are now left with only 6 out of the 8 total hours spent daily in the public school system.

This is not, however, where the time wasting ends!

Homeschooling at public school?  

We have homerooms and study halls at public school. Homerooms are where students check in and get their attendance marked off. They also receive any important announcements here—such as schedule changes.

Homerooms are roughly 15 minutes long. No educational learning takes place.


Also, everyone usually has at least one study hall in their schedule, and many have two. Now, as the name indicates, a study hall is supposed to be a time where—instead of having another class—you spend the entire period studying, or working on homework.

This is not what happens, typically. From personal observation, what takes place in study hall in order of frequency is as follows:

  1. Chatting with peers
  2. Playing free online computer games (in my day “Crush the Castle” and “Run 'N Gun” were all the rage)
  3. Texting and/or doing whatever it is people do on their smart phones
  4. Flirting
  5. Homework

So depending on what kind of student you are, what your priorities are, and whether or not you even have any homework to work on...study hall can be either completely unproductive, or a helpful way to get your homework out of the way.

However, since I'm only counting the time spent being instructed, study hall doesn't count. It's more like homeschooling anyway.

Any learning that does take place during study hall is accomplished by the student and by the student alone. They are reading the text book and figuring the problems out on their own. Study hall becomes homeschooling at that point, since the student is not being instructed by a teacher in a classroom, but by a book and their own mind—homeschooling.

Like I said earlier, pretty much everyone had at least one study hall, many had two. For the sake of this illustration, I'll subtract only one study hall period. Since periods at my school were roughly 45 minutes long, I'll subtract 45 minutes. This subtraction combined with homeroom leaves us short another full hour, bringing our remaining 6 hour total now down to 5.

Still, 5 solid hours of education? That's pretty darn good, right? Well, we're not finished.

Click here for part 2!

Linked up at:

A Mama's Story

Cornerstone Confessions

Time Warp Wife

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Raising Homemakers

The Deliberate Mom

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Hi! I’m Reagan, the second eldest of the Ramm Children, and husband to Haley Ramm.

I’m a speaker, coach, and writer dedicated to helping families develop and pursue their own family enterprises, so that they can live the truly best life that God intended for them.

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  1. What a unique perspective! To have been public-schooled and home-schooled and then to see your siblings solely schooled at home. I look forward to part 2.

  2. You are so right about the time wasted in Public Schools! I was in public elementary until 4th grade. Switched to private school for 3 years. There was less time wasted there because there was a strict moral code, less crowded hallways, and no study hall. You did your work at home for another 2 hours of work! I went back to public school for 2 years in junior high; that mirrored your description of public high school. I then Home Schooled for a year before beginning my Freshman year in public schools. After 8 weeks I begged my mother to come back to Home School for the very reason that I was wasting my time! I self paced through my high school, often studying deeper then my curriculum on topics, as well as perusing my interests of dance and swimming. I still managed to graduate a year early!
    Now I home school my children. They are in Kindergarten, 2nd, and 3rd. With all the factors of transportation time, Recess and Lunch, and how much time is taken for administrative actions (attendance/deciding lunch choices, lining up to go through the building to music, library, lunch, PE, and assemblies, even passing out papers and gathering supplies for 25-35 students) I figure if we have 1 hour of one-on-one for their math, reading, and language arts lessons. They do art, music, educational games while I work with their siblings, and then we do history and science together for another hour, well that’s 4 hours of learning a day! That is not to shabby when you figure public school hours.
    Can’t wait to see your next post!

  3. I think that it is great that you broke this down. I think us Homeschool Moms always have that guilt of our kids don’t do as much as public school kids. I am at the understanding that every family does what works best for them. I enjoy that I can homeschool. My husband and I took our kids to See You At the Pole this year, and both of my boys under the age of 6 asked to never be woken up again that early, but that would be normal routine 5 days a week if they were in public school. I’m glad you shared with #SocialButterflySunday. Hope to see you link up again this week 🙂

  4. Interesting perspective. I’m not a homeschooling mom, but I do agree there is time spent “not being educated” in traditional schools, public or private. That’s just the nature of the beast. It’s 1 teach to 20+ kids, not 1 parent to 1 or 2 (or 4) kids. And you aren’t just sitting in your family room or at your kitchen table doing the work, so of course there will be time spent walking between classes, getting to and from school, etc. I guess I don’t look at it like wasted time, just time spent.
    Personally I loved the public school I went to. I wanted to be home schooled so bad for a long time and at the end of the day I’m glad I wasn’t. But it’s all a personal choice. I always enjoy reading different people’s perspectives.

  5. I want to chime in with an educator’s point of view. The examples that you give (study hall, homeroom, passing periods, etc.) are all for high schoolers. Most elementary schools and middle schools that I have taught at (which include both private and public in five different states) do not include these times. Also, the attention span of any child is to be kept in mind. Do you really want your child having undivided instruction time for a solid eight hours? The students in the middle school I currently teach at get over 6 1/2 hours of instruction per day. I think that is pretty good! I obviously respect the right of any parent to homeschool, I just want to make sure that the public school (and its hardworking educators) are accurately represented. Thanks!

    • I definitely agree with you that 8 straight hours of education is not a good idea. I wrote this post series not for the purpose of arguing that more time given instruction is better than less time, but for the exact purpose to point out time isn’t everything. Many homeschooling parents get the feeling that they aren’t doing enough. This series was meant to show how that might not be the case.

      This was also not a critique on educators, but on the government school system as a whole, a system that came into being relatively recently to create competent factory workers.

      I also acknowledge that in the post that results will vary. All I can do is speak on what /I/ personally experienced at public school, although the school I went to was highly rated.

      I also want to say that I myself will be teaching a class in a more public-school-like classroom setting, so I don’t think there is anything wrong with being a teacher at a public school. Far from it. 🙂

  6. If you choose to homeschool that is your decision, why do you feel the need to bash public schools in the process? If you can’t feel good about your decision to homeschool without needing to rip on other forms of education maybe you aren’t doing the best job.

    • I think you have misunderstood the purpose of my series. It was not meant to bash public school (although I do believe it to be an inferior model) but to encourage homeschooling parents to not let their perhaps inflated views of public school dictate to them what they should do or how they should feel.

      I also think you may have missed who wrote this post. This was not written by a homeschooling parent, but by a recent high school graduate who attended public school for many years, and who also homeschooled. I have experience with both, and I have to say in general, homeschooling is better.

      You have falsely drawn the conclusion that because one disagrees with one method, they must be insecure about the method they do support. I will also critique any person who tries to convince me the Earth is flat. This does not mean I am insecure in my belief that the Earth is round, but because I am so convinced that it is. 🙂

  7. I believe John Taylor Gatto said there is 1.5 hours per school day spent on actual instruction.

    • That’s very interesting! I arrived at an estimation of 2 at the end of this series. Pretty much the same!



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