More lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer for Ohio students?

In the ed reform world, we’re accustomed to
hearing
, and making, calls for students to spend more time in school --
especially those students who are lagging behind their peers academically. But
a bill pending in the Ohio General Assembly would make it possible for students
to spend far less time in school than they do now.

House Bill
191
, co-sponsored by Rep. Patmon (a Cleveland Democrat) and Rep. Hayes (a
Republican representing rural east-central Ohio), would change the definition
of a school year from 182 days (of roughly 5.5 hours in length) to 960 hours
for K-6 (excluding half-day kindergartners) and 1,050 for 7-12, define a school
week as five days in length, and eliminate calamity days.

The bill would also make true for Buckeye teachers the old
joke that “there are three good reasons to become a teacher: June, July, and
August” by prohibiting schools from operating between Memorial Day and Labor
Day and banning extracurricular activities over Labor Day weekend. Such
proposals are offered in the legislature here every year or two, pushed by the
state’s two large amusement parks and other summer
tourist destinations that want cheap, teenage labor available for the full summer,
not to mention more summer days when families can visit. (Rep. Hayes readily
admits he sponsored the bill in order to boost the state’s tourism industry.)

Much of the clamor over the bill, which has been panned by several
newspaper
editorial
boards
and education
groups
, regards the fact that districts could essentially shave
five weeks off
the current school year if they adhered to the minimum
hours. That’s certainly a risk, though perhaps not as likely as critics worry. Charter
schools in Ohio are required to offer only 920 hours of instruction annually
but most outpace that by at least ten percent. And with all of the new
accountability provisions for schools and teachers that were put in place via
last year’s budget bill, school leaders would be foolish to drastically curb
the amount of time students spend learning and teachers spend teaching.

My problem with the bill is that while it unties districts’
hands in one regard, it shackles them in others. Changing to a school year
based on hours could provide schools a tremendous amount of flexibility in
scheduling. For example, charter schools relish the ability to schedule
frequent half-day professional development sessions for teachers but still get
“credit” for the several hours of instruction provided to students the other
half of the day, while district schools are limited in the number of such PD
days they can offer and “count” as school days. The bill also admirably
eliminates calamity days, requiring schools to make up missed instructional
time.

But requiring that a school week lasts five days removes the
opportunity, as just one example, for districts to save money on transportation
and energy by moving to a four-day week. And it’s well-documented that students
slide back academically over summer break. Lengthening that break (few, if any,
districts in Ohio currently adhere to a Labor-Day-to-Memorial-Day schedule)
would only worsen the regression. Changing those provisions could make this
bill a model for states providing true flexibility and autonomy to districts
when it comes to how and when they offer instruction.

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