The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 31, 2013

Schools back call for longer year, but want local control

By Emily Younker

— Brooke Montgomery said she understands a recent proposal to lengthen the school year by more than a week, but she would be opposed to it if it conflicted with the freedom of summer.

“It would give us more learning time, but at the same time, we want to have time to decompress and have summer vacation,” said Montgomery, a freshman at Webb City High School. “(Summer vacation) is important to me because I just kind of need some time to take a break from everything and hang out with my friends.”

The call to lengthen Missouri’s academic year has come from Gov. Jay Nixon, who said during his State of the State address on Monday that his proposed budget includes $100 million of new funding for education that would be used, in part, to add more than a week to the state’s 174-day academic year, bringing it to 180 days.

“To stay competitive in today’s economy, Missouri’s students should be in the classroom as much as their peers in other states,” Nixon told The Associated Press last month. “Extending Missouri’s school year by just six instructional days will bring our state in line with the national average while increasing educational opportunities for every student.”

Nixon said Missouri has the fourth-shortest school year in the nation. State law mandates 174 days for schools with a five-day week.

Figures from the Education Commission of the States show that as of 2011, more than half the states required at least 180-day school calendars. Alaska, Colorado and Michigan had shorter minimum school years than Missouri. Oklahoma requires 180 days, while Kansas requires 186 days for kindergarten through 11th grade and 181 days for 12th grade.

The length of the school year is governed by state statute, so any changes would require new legislation. Scott Holste, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said Nixon is proposing that state lawmakers consider passing such a bill.

Several students, in addition to Montgomery, said they don’t disagree with the governor’s proposal. But they said they would be against adding days to the academic calendar if it would extend the school year into late May or early June.

“I wouldn’t like it because our summer breaks are already crunched,” said Webb City sophomore Cameron Tournear, who spends his vacation in weight classes and football practice.

Webb City senior Abigail Naaykens, while acknowledging that any change to the calendar would come too late to affect her, said she would prefer that days be added in August or sprinkled in throughout the year — before year-end exams and standardized tests are administered.

“That would make more sense because that would give us more time to prepare (for the exams),” she said.

Local superintendents said they support having more instructional time for students, but several questioned the logistics of the proposal.

Joplin Superintendent C.J. Huff said additional classroom time would be welcome for students who need it. But he said he would prefer to increase the number of required hours, rather than the number of days, and give each district the authority to administer those hours when and where they are needed.

“The governor is on the right track with the idea of providing more time for those learners,” he said. “It’s just a question of flexibility at the local level.”

Jasper Superintendent Rick Stark said he also would advocate increasing the academic calendar by a set number of hours. He said districts should be able to control how to allocate the extra time.

“It just makes more sense,” he said.

Webb City Superintendent Tony Rossetti said he was encouraged by the proposal for reasons beyond more classroom time for students.

“Obviously, additional instructional time hopefully will equate to more learning, more time to cover material,” he said. “(Schools) also are a place where we know that kids are going to get a breakfast and a lunch.”

But he questioned to what extent the proposal would be funded by the state. Adding more than a week to the academic calendar could increase operational costs, potentially at a negative impact for districts that rely heavily on local taxpayer support, he said.

“The concept of additional days — I think that’s good for kids,” he said. “Now the funding mechanism — that’s a big horse to wrangle.”

The Missouri School Boards’ Association said lengthening the school year could raise costs for personnel and operations, but that it is worthy of discussion. The association said some districts already exceed the minimum requirements.

“There is a lot of merit to the idea of extending the school year and providing students with increased instructional time,” spokesman Brent Ghan said.

Mike Wood, a lobbyist for the Missouri State Teachers Association, said increasing the number of hours instead of the number of days might be more significant. He said the schedules used by high-performing districts could serve as a guide.

“If our goal is more time equals improved student achievement, I think that’s something everybody needs to work toward,” he said.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.

Calendar history

MOST AMERICAN SCHOOL CALENDARS average 180 days, with several small breaks during the year and a longer summer vacation, largely because of historical farming obligations during the summer months, according to James Pedersen, of Seton Hall University, in a 2012 article for the Journal of Inquiry and Action in Education.