By The Gazette Editorial Board
A sweltering start to the school year has revived an old debate: Should Iowa require its K-12 students to attend class for a set number of hours instead of days?
The idea isn’t new — the State Department of Education recommended the switch last legislative session — but it has suddenly seemed more relevant as schools recently approved early dismissal after early dismissal to offer students relief from the heat.
Many of those missed hours won’t have to be made up; Iowa law requires K-12 students to be in school for at least 180 days each year. Any school day that includes at least 5.5 hours of instruction counts the same.
As the state education department’s School Instructional Time Task Force investigates options for making the most out of each school day, members should take a close look at how requiring a minimum number of instructional hours might better serve students and give districts some much-needed flexibility.
An hour-based standard would guarantee the instructional time the minimum school day requirement is supposed to provide.
It also would give districts more flexibility in making up lost classroom time — allowing them to make up a few hours at a time, if they choose to, rather than shortening school breaks or tacking days onto the end of the school year.
That’s the main reason Oklahoma legislators approved a switch from days to hours in 2009, after a series of harsh winters there, Oklahoma Department of Education spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton told us this week.
Ice storms had forced schools to close for days, even weeks, and school officials were struggling to figure out how to make up for lost time, Pemberton said.
There was no easy answer: Add school days late in the spring, and you lose valuable teaching time before spring testing. Take days away from spring break or other scheduled school vacations, and you risk interfering with families’ plans.
“Allowing districts to choose instructional hours over days allows them to add hours into the schedule when they can be most useful,” Pemberton said. “Plus it gives flexibility to the districts so they can
best meet the educational needs of their students.”
Districts still would need to take family needs into account when scheduling makeup hours, but that’s a decision best made locally.
The instructional time task force has until Oct. 15 to deliver school calendar recommendations to legislators. Any changes could be enacted to take effect during the 2014-15 school year.
Serious consideration of changing the count from days to hours could help ensure our students aren’t left short by shorter school days.
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