I think I’m slowly getting a better understanding of the issues around lengthening the school day. I’m probably still missing something; if so, please let me know in the comments.
As far as I can tell, the most recent 2015 district calendar will comply with state law even if there are no changes in the length of the school day. (See the math below.) If that’s true, then any proposal to make the elementary day longer isn’t being driven by state law, but by something else. Here are the candidates:
More instructional time. The administration may argue that elementary schoolers need more instructional time. I just don’t agree. They’re already cooped up in school for six and a half hours, which seems like more than enough, especially for kids as young as five. More isn’t automatically better when it comes to education.
The superintendent has argued that the district has the shortest school day in Iowa. But who cares? What matters is the total number of hours in the school year, and we’ll be meeting the same hours requirement as everyone else.
It’s true that adding a half hour to the elementary day would put us over the required number of hours. But the administration has reportedly stated that, because of the excess, we would not have to make up snow and heat days—which is inconsistent with the whole idea that we’re doing this to give the kids more instructional time.
More time for lunch. This leaps out as a reason to lengthen the day, but I have no reason to think it’s what the district is after. Under the proposed calendar, 22 minutes is about the longest we can give the elementary school kids and still meet the 1080-hour requirement (because lunch doesn’t count toward the hours requirement).
If the district were to extend the elementary lunch period to 25 minutes, it would have to add about three minutes to the school day under the latest calendar. (Alternatively, it could add a day or two of school.) To have a 30-minute lunch, it would have to add about seven or eight minutes to the day (or go about four days longer). I understand that any addition of time to the day can complicate the bus schedule, which has to work in conjunction with the junior high and high school days. But it’s hard to see how even eight more minutes for lunch can justify an additional half hour on the day.
Again, it’s not at all clear that the district would use the longer day to give kids a longer lunch.
A desire to make the school year shorter. Apparently one of the selling points for the longer elementary day is that we could make the school year five days shorter. I get how this might be appealing to school staff, but it does not strike me as a good enough reason to keep young kids in school for seven hours a day.
Money. Finally, I suppose it’s possible that a longer day (with a shorter year) could result in some kind of cost savings. Again, I’d just want to see those numbers.
The reasons for making the elementary day half an hour longer are even less persuasive if it means that we’ll have to start the junior high and high school day at 7:45. The current start time of 8:10 is bad enough for teenagers, who are notoriously not morning people. For what it’s worth, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that junior high and high school days start no earlier than 8:30, because of teenagers’ later sleep cycles.
We’ll know more when the district releases the details of the proposal. The key questions to ask will be: How is this an improvement on the current schedule? Is this being driven by what the community wants, or just by what the administration wants?
Here is the math I used to evaluate the most recent 2015 calendar:
The state allows districts to measure the school year by either hours or days. Our district wants to shift to using hours, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me. But these calculations will focus in the state’s requirement of a minimum of 1080 hours in the school year.
The junior high and high school days are longer than the elementary day, so if the elementary schedule meets the 1080-hour requirement, they will too. The elementary day is hard to calculate precisely, because of two special rules: time at lunch doesn’t count toward the 1080 hours, but parent-teacher conference time does.
The current elementary day starts at 8:30 and ends at 3:00. That’s 6.5 hours. It’s hard to tell how long lunch officially is, because it is combined with recess for a total of 40 minutes. (Recess does count toward the 1080 hours.) Let’s assume (generously) that lunch is 20 minutes. That would put the countable day at 6 hours and 10 minutes, or 6.167 hours. Of the 180 total days in the proposed calendar, though, 39 are Thursdays, so you get:
6.167 * 141 full days (869.5) + 5.167 * 39 short days (201.5) = 1071 hours.
Then we have to add in the parent-teacher conference time. There are two conference days, and two conference evening sessions. I don’t know exactly how the hours would be counted, but I would think two school days plus two evening sessions would come out to at least 14 hours and possibly as many as 18. So that puts the total number of hours at somewhere between 1085 and 1089, clearing the 1080-hour requirement with a few hours to spare.