In a debate that makes one yearn for the intellectual challenge of “tastes great v less filling” comes news that DPS’s five additional late-start days, added to the calendar at the DCTA’s request during the last round of contract negotiations, may become five additional leave-early days:
Instead of starting classes three hours later on five days throughout the school year so teachers can train, the district will release students three hours early.
“Yay!” cheered school board President Theresa Pena, when DPS staff presented the plan. “We certainly heard from a lot of parents that late start isn’t working for them.”
Yes, you did. But here’s an elephant tucked in the corner: DPS has only about 172 instructional days per year (and I believe that was before the late-start days).
The fault is not only at the district level; Colorado mandates a specific number of hours. Although the data is from 2004 and does not cover every state, it puts Colorado as one of just three states with less than 174 days of instruction. The norm is 180 days.
An international study of 43 countries noted 33 of them have school years longer than 180 days, with a high of about 220 days per year. (For another view, try the documentary film 2 Million Minutes)
Is 220 instructional days that high? There are 260 non-weekend days in a year. Let’s take off 20 for vacation (15 days) and holidays (5 days). Heck, let’s lop off yet another 20 days for professional development or just slacker activities (company picnic anyone?), which works out to 220 working days per year.
The 220 days include 48 days — nearly 10 weeks — more of instruction than will take place in Denver. That is 28% more time.
Imagine trying to qualify for the Olympics by running a four-minute mile. Except you have to do it in 3:08 while the people in each adjoining lane can run an extra 52 seconds. That is what we are now asking our students to do when competing in a world economy when they go to school 172 days while other countries get 220.
Can we fix this? It is not on anyone’s list in the current economic and labor environment. The costs of adding days to the school calendar for teacher and administrator salaries alone would overwhelm a impoverished system, not to mention transportation, food, heat, and all the other costs.
One of the easiest answers to the question of reforming public education would simply be: spend more time teaching. Instead, DPS and DCTA are cutting instructional time and trying to decide between coming late v leaving early. Tastes lousy, less filling.