The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Should the School Year Be Shortened?

on June 28, 2016

Readers may have noticed that I’ve cut back on the number of pieces I post each week. The problem is not that I am lazy or over-worked, but that there is very little happening in education at this time of year. Policy makers, teachers, and students all seem to be taking a breather after another hard year, and I don’t blame them. So I am following their lead. However, today’s story seemed interesting to me and I have some thoughts about changing the situation described.


 An article in yesterday’s N.Y. Times described a problem in the New York City schools at this time of year that seems worthy of attention. In a nutshell, it’s the drop-off in school attendance near the end of the school year: “Every year, attendance becomes challenging as the school year winds down. It begins to drop after state testing is complete in the spring, then slips further in June. But the last few days can be particularly sparse, and this year the final day of school falls on a Tuesday (6/28) late in the month.”

The article goes on to describe high school students’ reasons for being absent. Highschoolers had finished the Regents exams in mid June, and in their minds there was little reason to keep going back to classrooms where nothing of importance was happening. At best, those days were an anti-climax. Also, hot, sunny weather, summer jobs, and opportunities to travel were drawing them away. Although many school principals had devised attractive events, such as field trips and classroom parties, to draw students back, they predicted that about 25%, the same numbers as last year, would be absent the whole time.

As I read about this situation it seemed to me that trying to keep kids in school after all meaningful education has ended is a waste of time, effort, and money. Why not end school in mid June after the tests have been given and scored and students know where they stand for the following year? The answer to that question is that New York, like most states, requires a 180-day school year. Okay, then why not start school earlier in the fall; say the week before Labor Day? Or maybe officials should be re-thinking the “180 Day rule”.

When I was a principal in Oregon from 1988 to 2000, the law there prescribed hours of instruction, not days. And it was quite strict. A school district could not count recesses, lunchtime, or even the minutes allotted for students to move from class to class as part of instructional time. In rural areas where many students worked on farms in the summer and where bus transportation was a big expense to school districts, many schools had moved to longer school days and shorter years. Some even went to four-day weeks to save on busses.

If my math is accurate, cutting 10 days from the school year in New York City and other places where 180 days are now required, would mean adding about half an hour daily to school instruction. Perhaps, in these times when high stakes testing and climate change have strong effects on students and their families, state policy makers should consider such a move.

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