Is school too long or too short?
By Cory Weaver
Every student loves the sound of the bell ringing at the end of the school day. Who decides how long you have to wait for that last bell?
Students in St. Paul, for example, spend 390 minutes a day in school for 175 days, said Peter Christensen, executive director of high school education for Saint Paul public schools.
The state sets education guidelines that each student is required to meet, and 390 minutes is what the St. Paul school district believes is the least amount of time needed to reach those standards, Christensen said.
The individual school districts and school boards decide the length of a school day, as there is no state regulation as to how long the day must be.
In general, urban districts tend to have a shorter school day than suburban districts and rural schools tend to have the longest days.
The school board in your district also decides the number of days you go to school each year. However, Minnesota has one law that says schools may not set the length of the school year less than it was in the 96-97 school year.
The legislature has attempted to lengthen the school year before by three days, but it was never passed as a law.
Many students think the school day and the school year is already too long, so they may groan when they find out that educators want them in school even longer.
“There’s a real concern that the day, in fact, is not long enough, nor is the school year long enough,” Christensen said. “There is a move to look very carefully at how we could increase the school day to 420 minutes.”
That’s an extra half an hour of school a day.
While it would affect students, it would mainly serve as a way to close the achievement gap between students by allowing teachers to talk to each other about students they share. That way they wouldn’t have to wait until after school, when teachers may be tired or in a rush.
In comparison to other countries, students in the United States spend much less time in school.
In Europe, the average school-year length is 190 days. In Asia it’s 210 days and in China 230 days. Minnesotan students are in school only 75 percent of the time students in India spend behind a desk
Minnesota schools used to start after Labor Day because of the students who worked on the family farm for the growing season, said Denise Quinlan, executive director of middle grades education St. Paul.
“In St. Paul specifically, we start after Labor Day due to the fact our transportation (school bus company) is located close to the State Fair,” she said.
Busing students to school not only affects when the school year starts, but when the school day starts as well, Christensen said.
“We transport more students per capita than any other large urban district in the country,” Christensen said.
Per capita is a percentage that compares the amount of kids bussed to school to the population of the city.
As a means of saving money, schools start at different times so one bus can make more than one trip.
There is no better feeling for a student than the last day of school before summer break.
The last day of school in St. Paul this year is June 9. The main reason it’s not later is due to lack of funding, said Quinlan.
The federal government has given Minnesota “skimpy funding,” said Charlie Kyte, director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators.
Kyte’s group, which is made up of administrators and principals, has been working to make the school year 210 days long. That would get Minnesota students in school as long as students in Asia, but still less than in China.
Representatives have introduced bills to do so the past two years, but the legislature refuses to look at it because of the costs it would bring, Kyte said. (??)
Charlie Kyte’s organization wants “Minnesota schools to be world-class schools,” Kyte said.
To do this, the legislation must be passed, he said. If the legislature continues to shoot down their proposals because of costs, Minnesota will always have a shorter school year compared to most.
This legislation would have put kids in kindergarten all day versus half days, added more after-school programs, and made school year-round, with the current three months of summer vacation split up throughout the year.
Coincidentally, all countries that have year-round school or almost year-round school all have higher test scores than the United States.
While many believe the school day and the school year need to be longer, no one can agree on how to do it, said Christensen. As long as this continues, the school day and the school year will remain the same.