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Published: Sunday, 2/1/2009

Will Strickland s proposal for a longer school year fly?


COLUMBUS Gov. Ted Strickland s proposal to keep Ohio students in the classroom 20 days longer each year may have been bold for the Buckeye State and even the nation as a whole, but those extra weeks would bring the state just to the global average.

Students across the world spend an average of 200 days in school each year with nations such as China, Japan, Korea, and Australia raising the bar for all. But U.S. states largely remain tied to a 180-day year that, for the most part, gives students and teachers nearly three months off in the summer.

Korean students spend 225 days in the classroom. Those in Japan are in school 223 a year and those in China spend 221 in class, according to a 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, the most recent data on international classroom time available.

The test scores show they are well outachieving us with regard to both math and science achievement, said Jennifer Davis, president of the Boston-based nonprofit National Center on Time and Learning.

The governor also has proposed lengthening the school day and mandating all-day kindergarten statewide, both of which would increase the number of hours that students and teachers spend in the classroom.

Only Massachusetts, which is in the fourth year of a pilot program, has beaten Ohio to the punch in experimenting with lengthening the school year. Although it also requires a minimum of 180 days, a pilot program provides grants to 12 school districts to increase classroom time by 25 percent. The program leaves it to the schools to decide whether to do that with longer days, years, or both.

Knowing that America s children are among the world s leaders in the amount of television they watch, we are claiming a few more hours of childhood for reading, thinking, community projects, and other activities, Mr. Strickland said last week in this third State of the State address.

And in exchange for those few hours, we will give our students a lifetime of advantages, he said.

Mr. Strickland promised transformational changes in Ohio s K-12 system, but it is expected to take several years to implement them. His proposal to lengthen the school year alone would be implemented over 10 years.

His budget to be proposed Monday will call for a down payment of $925 million more for schools, but his administration has estimated it would cost $3.5 billion more if everything were immediately implemented, including planned increases in the state s share of overall education costs.

Currently, Ohio requires teachers to be on the job a minimum of 182 days a year, two of which can be teacher professional development days. Nothing prevents school districts from offering longer school years, but the state s funding formula does not give them added credit for the extra days.

The Education Commission of the States reports that 30 states have the 180 days minimum requirement. Eleven are below that, between 160 and 179 days while two, Ohio and Kansas, are above that. Kansas requires 181 days for seniors but 186 for all other grades.

Eight states, including Michigan, measure their school calendars in hours as opposed to years.

Sue Taylor, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, said the union has supported much of what the governor has proposed, including efforts to enhance teacher quality. She worked for Cincinnati Public Schools, which voluntarily goes beyond the state minimum to have a 190-day school year.

The state sets the minimum number of school days required, she said. That obviously will affect contracts, hopefully at the conclusion of current contracts. We are not aware of a whole lot of professionals and workers who would agree to longer days and longer years without additional compensation.

Gretchen Bueter, principal of Toledo Public Schools Grove Patterson Academy, noted that her school is proof it can be done. Tomorrow, on the day his budget is presented in detail, Mr. Strickland will visit the school to sell his plan because it already tacks on five days of classroom instruction on the front end of the school year and five days of teacher professional development at the end.

The K-8 school also has a longer school day, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Ms. Bueter estimated that the extra daily hours translate into 47 additional days of instruction while providing time for 90 minutes of uninterrupted reading daily and a half-hour of foreign language.

It was tough to begin with, but it began with the proper union people and the administration coming together when they decided to put the program together, she said. There is extra pay for the extra time.

She expects to mail out 500 to 600 applications to households for between 75 and 100 open slots next year.

Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), a former Toledo Public Schools teacher, noted the parts of the governor s proposal mirror what some city schools are already doing. It s a great start for our economic recovery, she said. We can t afford not to invest in fixing school funding and transformative academic reform. That s exactly his theme.

Contact Jim Provance at:jprovance@theblade.comor 614-221-0496.

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