Time in School

James Q. Lynch reports in The Gazette today that the Iowa Department of Education will likely propose extended school time for some students in the next education reform proposal.

The article cites data from the International Review of Curriculum and Assessment showing that some countries require students to attend school more days of the year than Iowa does.  (See Table 15 Organisation of school year and school day here).  However, more days of attendance does not necessarily mean more hours of instruction.

In addition, it isn’t clear that every country that outperforms us on international tests does require more time in school.  For example, Finland appears to require only 608-640 hours of compulsory instruction for elementary age students compared to Iowa’s 990 compulsory hours of instruction.  (See Time in School report from the Center for Public Education, Total Compulsory Hours of Instruction by Country here).

During the third-grade retention debate, opponents (reasonably, I think) asked what is to be offered during the summer after third grade that will effectively remediate reading problems in a few weeks, that couldn’t be remediated in the prior four years of schooling?  And if they know how to remediate reading problems in a few weeks, why not do it during the regular school year and as soon as possible?  I think similar questions ought to be asked here.  Are we effectively using the time we already require students to attend school?  What do we plan to do differently during the additional time, how do we know it will be more effective, and why can’t it be done in the time we already have?

The fact that the proposal will involve some, but not all, students raises other questions.  How will they identify which students will receive more time in school?  Will it be voluntary or compulsory?  Is it fair to the students to tell them, the less you seem to be benefitting from school, the more time you have to spend in it?