(Housekeeping first: I just returned to the office after spending the morning in the classroom of Gregory Ott, the north Fulton teacher who won the coveted 2009 Milken Educator award last week. I will write about him later this week. I sprang 28 of you from the filter. Sorry, I could not get you out earlier.)
While I was gone, Fulton drew nearer to reducing its school year by three days. According to the news story:
Fulton County school officials expect to approve a shortened school calendar Thursday, one that for the next two years at least will keep kids on campus for 177 days — three fewer days than the state’s standard 180-day school year.
The move will save Fulton $1.1 million, officials said. It will bring to at least three the number of Georgia systems cutting days out of the school year to help balance their books, and makes Georgia part of an emerging trend: Hawaii just cut 17 days from its school year for budget-cutting reasons, leaving it with a 163-day instructional calendar.
The financial effects of a shorter year are easy to measure, but the effect on students’ performance is less clear. Research suggests that a few days may not make much of a difference but, in Georgia, one system has dropped more than a month. The cost-cutting also comes as schools face increased federal testing goals and calls and encouragement from experts nationally to re-examine school calendars and move in the opposite direction, pumping them up with longer school days, lengthening the school year and giving teachers significantly more time to plan lessons.
Georgia lawmakers this year gave school systems the option to shorten their 180-day calendars, as long as kids spent the same amount of time in instructions. For Fulton and other systems, that has meant plans to cut some school days and add 10 to 30 minutes to each day.
Fulton’s plan, which will take effect in August with a few extra days of summer break, means its 88,000 students will spend an extra 10 minutes a day in school, spokeswoman Allison Toller said.
Is an extra 10 minutes sufficient to compensate for the lost days?
The story quotes JoBeth Allen, a UGA education professor. “It’s my personal feeling no one is going to learn anything extra by extending the school day by 10 minutes [unless] the instruction is dramatically different,” Allen said.
The story cites two other counties that have taken drastic action. Murray County has adopted a 160-day school year to save $124,000. Peach County has moved to a four-day school week, which, along with saving money, has reduced teacher absences. (I have my ideas what that might mean, but I will save those to another entry down the line.)
I count myself among the skeptics who think a few extra minutes will not balance the lost days.
What do you think?