Task Force Recommends Longer School Year

Friday, November 30th 2007, 6:18 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A State Board of Education task force has recommended lengthening the school year in Oklahoma by at least 17 days by the 2010-2011 school year. The Time Reform Task Force presented 12 proposals to the board on Thursday, one of which suggests tacking on seven days to the academic calendar beginning next year.

Presently, Oklahoma law requires schools to be open 180 days per academic year for six hours a day. But a "school day" isn't the same as a day of actual instruction.

Only 175 days must be spent on instruction, while the others can be used for parent-teacher conferences and professional development.

"I don't believe that parents know that they're cheating their child out of a day of instruction when they have parent-teacher conferences," said State Superintendent Sandy Garrett, who called for the task force to study the issue in July. "Are we for parent-teacher conferences? Yes, yes, yes. ... But we do not think it should take the place of instruction."

The task force would like to see 190 instructional days for Oklahoma children, plus five days for professional development and two for parent-teacher conferences. At six hours a day, that would bring students' instructional time to 1,140 hours a year.

The national average is 180 instructional days of school a year for 6.5 hours each day, or 1,170 hours a year.

Individual school districts would decide whether to lengthen the school day, according to the recommendations.

Some parents and teachers support extending the school year and others do not, but a public conversation about the issue is necessary, Garrett said.

"It's probably the most important dialogue that Oklahoma and that America can have right now," she said.

Among other things, the task force recommended that schools examine their use of school time based on guidelines to be developed by the State Department of Education. The group's approach is incremental -- with at least 180 instructional days, five professional development days and two parent-teacher conference days called for in the 2008-2009 academic year.

The task force also suggested the education department and the state Legislature acknowledge that plans to increase the quantity and quality of classroom instructional time will require additional resources. The projected cost for the seven additional days proposed for next year is $127.8 million.

The group also recommended that state law differentiate between an instructional day and a school day, and there should be limits on the ability to use instructional days for anything other than student learning.

The State Board of Education likely will review and vote on the task force's recommendations at its December meeting. If adopted, the recommendations would go to Gov. Brad Henry and to legislative leaders to consider in the upcoming session.