Time in School 2

The Instructional Time Task Force issued its report a few weeks ago.  It can be downloaded here and you can see The Gazette’s coverage here.

Length of the Instructional Day

The Task Force recommended that the local districts continue to determine the length of the school day (note that Iowa Administrative Code 281-12.1(9) requires a minimum of 5.5 hours of instructional time per school day).  [p. 9]

Length of School Year

The Task Force determined that each additional day of instruction costs about fifteen million dollars (so moving from 180 days to a 220 day school year would cost about six hundred million dollars per year), so they are not recommending more time for all students.

The Task Force is not recommending a mandatory change in school year calendars but are recommending the offer of funding as an incentive to adopt innovative calendars and that the State Board of Education should have the power to approve and revoke approval of innovative calendars. [pp. 9, 12]

However, research on year-round schooling (same numbers of school days distributed differently) suggests switching to the year-round calendar “has essentially no impact on academic achievement of the average student.”  [HT: Marginal Revolution]

The Task Force is recommending a switch from counting minimum instructional time in days (180 days) to hours (1080 hours).  [p. 9]  Note that they have apparently calculated the conversion at a six hour school day [6 hours times 180 days equals 1080 hours] even though the administrative code sets the minimum instructional time per day at 5.5 hours [5.5 hours times 180 days equals 990 hours].  This recommendation would add the equivalent of just over sixteen days of instructional time (at the 5.5 hour day).

The Task Force comments that:

When students are not achieving proficiency, school districts must be given the authority to require their attendance in extended/supplemental learning opportunities.  [p. 8]

The Task Force also suggests staggered school days or school years as a way to increase time in school without having an increase in costs in contract time for teachers.  [p. 12]  Presumably this would result in larger class sizes (at least part of the day) and students being required to spend more time in school than any of the adults are required to spend there.  I think it is concerning that some kids could be compelled to spend more time in school than others (at district discretion) or that all kids could be compelled to spend more time in school than the adults working there are willing to be there.  If a 7:30 am to 5:00 pm day is too long for the adults, it is also too long for the children.

Start Date

The Task Force was unable to reach a consensus about the start date issue.  The majority came down on the side of local control (having semesters end before winter break or matching calendars of local college/university) and the minority in favor of the tourism/summer job argument.  [p. 11]

All in all, I’m still not convinced that children ought to be required to spend more time in school.


9 thoughts on “Time in School 2

  1. Chris

    This is a really informative post. Do you know specifically how it would affect the Iowa City school district? Is “instructional time” defined in a way that would enable you to determine whether time would have to be added to the school day here?

    1. Karen W Post author

      Chris, I don’t see any recommendation for changing the definition of instructional time (excludes lunch but not parent conferences etc.) but I did wonder about whether some districts would feel pressured to shorten lunch or negotiate for a longer contract day or add days to the calendar (if there is money in the budget for that) depending on whether they were currently offering just the 5.5 hour minimum per school day. I don’t actually know the ICCSD elementary school schedule. Are they offering just 27.5 hours of instructional time per week?

      1. Chris

        In the elementaries (which I think have the shortest day), they’re in school for 31.5 hours each week. That’s 1890 minutes/week. Subtract lunch and getting to and from lunch, and at worst (assuming twenty minutes for the whole lunch process, which may be generous) that would come down to 1790 minutes per week, which is an average of 358 per day. So we’d be just two minutes short of 6 hours per day. So we’d have to add about 2 minutes to the school day, or about a day to the school year.

        (That’s assuming that lunch is not instructional time but that everything else, including recess, counts — but that does appear to be the DOE’s position.)

        It would certainly constrain any attempt to lengthen our very short lunch period without lengthening the school day or year, which would be unfortunate. Although since our superintendent has been acting like we’re already legally constrained in that way, maybe it wouldn’t make any difference.

        Our superintendent is constantly telling us that our school day is one of the shortest around. If that’s true, and this regulation would make us add only two minutes to the day, then it’s hard to see how the change from “180 days” to “1080 hours” could make much of a difference anywhere. (And that would be fine with me; like you, I don’t assume that more school = more learning.) If anything, it would seem to permit most districts to shorten the school year if they wanted to.

        Hmmm — shorter school years, local control over calendars — I’m starting to like this commission . . .

        I’m not really understanding the staggered day/year idea — can you elaborate?

  2. Karen W Post author

    Chris, on the 1080 hours thing–I think that they should just be clear that it isn’t the same amount of time as required now counted in different units, but is actually an increase of 90 hours per year. If we count by hours instead of days, I suppose schools already offering more than six hours of instructional time per day could shorten the school year, or perhaps not worry about making up snow days?

    I gather that the staggered school year would look like students attending school every single day (on a longer school year calendar) but teachers would work only some of those days. So, students might have one teacher Mon., Wed., and Fri. and another teacher Tues, Wed. (with class divided among the two teachers?), and Thurs. Or, I suppose, high school could look more like college with some classes on a MWF schedule and others on a TTh schedule with students attending all sessions and teachers teaching only some of the sessions. I suppose you could create different arrangements of the time–but I think that captures the basic idea–teachers work the same number of contract days but kids end up having more days of school (having fewer teachers on some of those extra days).

    The staggered school day suggestion was having some teachers work 7:30 am to 3:30 pm and others working 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, with the students, I guess, attending a 7:30 am to 5:00 pm school day. More time for kids in school without increasing the salary expenditure for teachers.

    1. Karen W Post author

      I think it does mean larger classes, at least part of the day/year. Hence the ongoing campaign emphasizing that class size doesn’t matter.

      1. Chris

        Hmm, there does seem to be an ongoing campaign to emphasize that class size is unimportant, but I wonder why. Since when do reform proposals need popular support before they are implemented?

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