“Nothing but the best for our students.”
“Education is key to the future.”
“Our students must compete with the brightest in China.”
You’ve heard remarks like this before, often from educators and elected officials. But the reality is far different from these remarks. We’ve found that a majority of the counties in Georgia provide less than the state-mandated 180 days of instruction for their county students.
Can you imagine that you could provide “nothing but the best” by shortchanging the number of days students are in school? It’s happening.
Take a look at the adjacent map. The orange counties are providing 180 days of instruction. They keep to the attendance standard in the year’s calendar for instruction. Interestingly, there seems to be little geographic pattern throughout the state concerning attendance. Counties in well-to-do and growing areas seems to miss the 180 day standard as well as poorer counties, and conversely, some poor counties seem to meet the 180 day standard as do wealthier counties.
Said another way, 29 percent of counties meet the 180 day attendance standard. Another 49 percent of county systems have at least 175 days of instruction. Twenty three percent of students have a calendar calling for 174 or less days of instruction.
The accompanying table shows the 19 counties under 169 days of instruction. (This analysis dealt only with the county systems. There are 21 city systems in the state, which also vary in their instructional days for students.)
At one time, school systems could ask for a waiver in the attendance days. Often this dealt with “snow days,” but lately, it comes from budget restraints.
However, five years ago, the Legislature amended the requirement of 180 days of planned instruction, saying that the systems could institute an “equivalent” of 180 days.
Howard Hendley, director of policy for the State School Board, says: “It was to give school boards more flexibility. The recession had hit hard, and the systems wanted to spread their limited resources where it was needed the most.”
Not changed was the state requirement that each system put in at least 5.5 hours per day in grades 6-12, “or its equivalent.”
One system, Murray County, now goes only 160 days. Dr. Danny Dunn, director of personnel, says the system added time to the elementary school day, going now until 3 p.m., where previously the elementary day ended at 2 p.m., to arrive at an equivalency of 180 days. At the middle and high school level, the system could make up that time during the school day, so that the system merely shifted to start earlier in the day, while still maintaining the equivalent of 5.5 hours of instructional time daily required by the state. The actual time at middle and high schools in Murray County is from 7:15 a.m. until 3:15 p.m.
Meanwhile, the two local systems, Gwinnett County and Buford City, have kept the 180 day school calendar.
While educators may tell you that students going less than 180 days can do well in school, reducing the number of days attending school seems like the polar opposite way to greatly improve student achievement.
Remember those wanting to compete with China in educating our children? One way might be to add more school days each year to the school calendar, some even suggesting “year-round school.” Going less than 180 days is no way to dramatically improve education.