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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