When school year starts, students aren’t only ones counting the days ahead
Joy Friedel is helping her son James get used to kindergarten Monday, Corbett School District’s student orientation day. Corbett, which has among Oregon’s highest graduation rates, tied for the fewest days of school last year among Oregon districts, partly because it uses a four-day week with longer days. Superintendent Randy Trani says Corbett exceeds the state’s instructional hours requirement, with 10 days of school scheduled this year beyond the days needed to meet the state’s minimums. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
As most Oregon students start school this week and next, they face some of the shortest school calendars in the country, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Oregon districts’ 2017-18 school year ranged from roughly 135 days to almost 179 days, according to Oregon Department of Education data. The state sets minimums for instructional hours, but local districts decide their own calendars.
Education advocates agree the Oregon school year is not long enough. A work group of the Joint Interim Committee on Student Success has made increasing instructional time one of its central policy goals. At the committee’s public hearings as it tours Oregon to explore ways to improve and finance the education system, school and community leaders have repeatedly emphasized a desire for more school time.
Oregon is among a handful of states that have an hours requirement but not a days requirement. Oregon law calls for 900 hours for K-8, 990 hours for grades 9-11 and 966 hours for grade 12. Districts must report to ODE whether they met the instructional time requirements. They do not report the actual number of hours of instructional time for every grade.
According to ODE data, Double O School District in Harney County had 135.7 school days last year, tied for the fewest of any Oregon district. But number of days is a poor metric for many districts.
Double O, a K-8 school in Harney County, had three students last school year.
“They get my one-on-one undivided attention all day long,” said Karla Neuschwander, the district’s part-time administrator and only teacher. Neuschwander said the students are getting their lessons done and advancing as needed.
Double O, which started school Monday with four students enrolled, is among about a quarter of Oregon districts that are on some variation of a four-day week. Many of Oregon’s smaller and more remote districts prefer four-day weeks with longer class days for logistical reasons. Having a day open cuts down on long trips to school, allows more travel time for sports teams without cutting into school time, and allows more efficient use of building and staff time, districts say.
Double O, like other schools on four-day schedules, has some Friday class days scattered through the year to meet Oregon’s hourly instructional minimums.
Using an average U.S. school day of 6.6 hours, Oregon’s hours requirement works out to about 136 days for elementary school and 150 days for grades 9-11.
All forty-one states with a days minimum required 160 or more school days as of 2015, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Most required 180 days, but not all school days are created equal. States’ definitions of a minimum “day” range from three hours in Missouri to seven hours in Texas.
When accounting for variations in states’ rules, more than 30 states require more hours than Oregon for all or some grades. State hourly standards range from 712 hours for grades 1-3 in Arizona to 1,170 hours for grades 8-12 in Maryland.
But what counts as an instructional hour? Texas, which requires a minimum of 180 seven-hour days, allows schools to count recess and breaks, which is common among states.
Oregon allows schools to include up to 60 hours of recess time for grades 1-3 and up to 60 hours of staff development and parent-teacher conferences.
The Colton School District, with 141.6 school days last year, is another district on the lower end of total class days that uses a four-day week. Most students in the small district 34 miles southeast of Portland have a 7.5-hour day, including lunch and breaks.
School Board Chair Tim Behrens said the board lengthened this year’s school calendar to build in more instructional days in case of another bad snow year.
“We’re not interested in the least amount of instructional minutes,” he said.
Behrens added, though, that more school time runs into challenges bargaining for additional teacher time.
“Any increase in costs needs to be met with an increase in revenue,” he said.
Siuslaw School District, with 177.7 days, has one of the longest Oregon school years, and School Board Chair John Barnett credits the district’s strong relationship with its teachers union.
Barnett said he would love to see a longer mandated school year in the district about 50 miles south of Newport but only if it came with more money to fund it.
“Our school board’s biggest issue is always graduation rates,” he said. “The longer a school year we can have the more opportunity we can have to improve those graduation rates.”
No matter how you count the days, schools must stay in session until late May to mid-June, depending on their start day. Oregon law requires at least 265 consecutive calendar days between the first and last instructional day, making it the only state with a minimum calendar length, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Second- and third-grade Corbett Elementary teacher Lauren Collins welcomes students Monday. Corbett has blended classrooms, and Monday was a day for parents and students to meet their teachers if they are moving to a new classroom. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Natalie Frederick walks her son Lucas to kindergarten Monday at Corbett Elementary. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Corbett teachers Marleen and Sam Wallace escort their daughter Esmerelda to preschool on orientation day. Corbett School District’s first full day for all students is Tuesday. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
- Jake Arnold, OSBA