The Times West Virginian

Opinion

April 9, 2014

Proposed school calendar lives up to letter and spirit of law

West Virginia state law requires that students be in a classroom for 180 days.

Why 180 days? It’s probably a carryover from the 19th and 20th centuries when agriculture was a prominent industry and family members, young and old, were needed to help with the planting and the harvesting of food. Whether it’s a memory of days gone by or a magic number, 180 days is the U.S. standard for the number of days a child should be in the classroom.

It’s a small number, especially if you compare it to other countries. Japan, for example, has set the standard at 240 days on a trimester system that starts in April and ends in March. Students have short breaks between trimesters, which are usually spent studying for entrance exams or keeping up in a highly competitive educational system. It’s not a secret that students in Japan fare much better than American students in almost every single academic area at earlier ages. Is it because they are in the classroom 60 extra days? Maybe, but it also might be the value that the community, the families and local leaders place in the educational system.

It isn’t a day care. It isn’t a social setting. It is a place where children are sent to learn the skills they will eventually need to compete in a global marketplace. It is the foundation for growth — passing one grade prepares them for the next one and the next until a degree is earned.

Their culture places a very high value on personal success in the classroom environment.

Does ours? We really believe that varies from house to house.

But back to state law. Last fall, the West Virginia Board of Education passed a new policy that would grant more flexibility to local school boards by increasing the staff scheduling window from 43 to 48 weeks. Local BOEs would be required to create a calendar that would ensure 180 days in the classroom, no matter the weather, and have that calendar approved by the state. Local public meetings would be required for the community to have input in the decision-making process.

Marion County, we believe, did very well with seeking public interaction about the calendar. In addition to the public meetings, an online survey, with more than 3,000 responses, was used by a calendar committee to come up with three possible school calendars for the 2014-15 year. Those three options were sent to 1,100 employees, with 866 returned by deadline. Though the votes were more evenly split than in the past, the calendar preferred by employees has school starting Aug. 21 for students and ending May 28 with graduation somewhere around May 22.

Holiday breaks will be shorter, but that follows along with public opinion expressed within the surveys. Students have a proposed Thanksgiving break beginning on Thanksgiving Day, and they would return that following Monday. Christmas holiday is proposed for Dec. 24 through Jan. 2.

Spring break would be scheduled for March 30 through April 6, but it could be shortened if Marion County schools are closed for snow days. March 30 through April 1 are scheduled as makeup days to be taken as needed. Makeup days are also added onto the end of the year to be taken as needed, up through June 30. This is all contingent on whether the BOE approves the proposed calendar on April 21 and if the state approves the submitted calendar.

And we think they should.

We think this calendar truly lives up to not only the letter of the law, but the spirit of it, too. Kids need to be in a classroom environment in order to have mastery of subjects. We cannot put out a calendar with so little flexibility that one major snowstorm — or, as was the case this school year, a series of dreadful inclement weather events spread out over a three-month period — wrecks any chance of hitting the 180-day mark. We can’t just shrug our shoulders and say “oh, well” if we fail to get our children in the classroom with enough time for more than just teaching them enough to get “mastery” on whatever standardized test we use to gauge whether we are doing a good job.

Because if all we’re doing is teaching to the test, we’ve failed long before the No. 2 pencils are passed out.

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