Our Opinion: Stop shortchanging students

Friday, March 24, 2006

We have mixed feelings about a bill that has passed the Iowa House of Representatives and now goes before the Iowa Senate. The bill establishes minimum hours of instruction time for students during the school year.

Under the bill, that would take effect in 2008 if passed in the state senate, students in grades 1-6 would be required to have 990 hours of instruction time during a school year and students in grades 7-12 would be required to have 1,080 hours of instruction time. This would replace the current 180 days of school requirement.

Lunch, recess, non-instructional assemblies such as pep rallies and time lost from late starts and early dismissals would not count toward the minimum number of hours.

Although this would create headaches for districts, we believe that, on balance, a minimum hour requirement makes sense.

For those who say that the requirement is an attempt to micro-manage school district's schedules, we ask -- why is it appropriate to set a number of days but not a number of hours?

The hours requirement simply has more meaning than a number of days of unspecified length. If school is dismissed an hour after starting because of weather, that currently counts the same as any other school day. This doesn't make sense.

For quite a number of years now, school districts have had more in-service staff training than they used to, which is a good thing, but it has come largely through early dismissals, meaning less instruction time. This sacrifice of instructional time seems to be hardly acknowledged to the public by school boards and administrators.

Requiring a minimum number of instructional hours would require school districts to weigh lost instruction time against whatever alternative activities occur on specific days.

The biggest headache created would be unanticipated expense caused by weather related extensions of the school year. Certified staff are not paid by the hour but by the number of days they appear at work.

Besides the expense, parents and students would have objections to calendars being extended beyond what they now are.

We don't believe these problems are insurmountable. The alternative to overcoming these obstacles is to shortchange the education of our young people.