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McMullen: Quality over quantity when it comes to school calendar

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ďGov. Jay Nixon has proposed lengthening the school year from 174 days to 180 days to put the state in line with the national average. Should Missouri public schools add six days of classes?Ē


Thatís the question on the most recent poll on the website of the Sedalia Democrat and at writing a little more than 2/3 of the responders are voting in the affirmative.


And thereís an easy explanation for the easy victory: Most of the responders are probably adults and many of them would probably enjoy more child-free time. Little Travis, like many school-age kids, would scream out in horror at the mere thought. Ugh, more school? Donít I already spend enough time there as is?


And when I first read through that poll question, it surprised me. I had always assumed that there were federal standards for the length of a school year. But the federal government allows those calendars to be set on a state-by-state basis and Missouriís total required school days per year, 174, is among the least in the nation.


Weíre only beating out Colorado, Alaska, and Michigan: requiring 160, 170 and 170 respectively. Kentucky, Maine, North Dakota and Vermont only require one more day than Missouri, Illinois comes in at 177 and a majority of states have come to a consensus on our target number, 180.


Some would argue that we should get to 180 just because its become something of a standard; as though itís better to have more school days just for the sake of having more school days.


But the statistics say that a longer year doesnít essentially produce better learning or better test scores. Many of the children in the countries that have educational systems that produce pupils that beat ours in a number of categories do so with the same or at least a comparable amount of actual learning time.


I think we all ultimately would like to see our kids receive the best possible education. But six more days of the same education that theyíre already receiving probably isnít going to produce the sort of improvement that weíd like to see. Thereís only so much more a teacher could do with slightly more than a week of class time.


A six day increase is practically none at all, even if it does help us meet largely arbitrary national standards. I guess it could give the other states less ammunition when they get catty around the water cooler. Hey Missouri, how many days a year do your kids to to school?


So there are two things that could actually be done: We could increase the number of school days significantly so that there is real extra time to work with (which I could only discuss on a theoretical level, because I feel as though spending practically half of a given year in school is taxing enough for most children) or doing more with the time that we already have.


I feel as though when it comes to the school year that we should embrace the idea of quality over quantity.


And there are a number of different ideas on how to improve the school day but thereís one way that definitely isnít going to do it. And inflating the standards for Missouri school districts without actually enacting anything that will help them meet those standards will do nothing but dig the hole deeper.


Let it be decreed that education gets better, we insist. Press the buttons and switches and make it so.


Do you know what happens to schools that donít meet their increasingly higher standards? They lose some of their resources and some of their funding. And when that happens they might have to cut some of the people and programs that allow the school to have a chance at meeting those standards. Issuing the sort of punishments that directly contribute to repeat offenses wonít create progress, only a downward cycle of results.


You cannot punish a school into compliance through the withdrawal of resources.


We donít need more school days, we need better ones. And we donít need to make bad situations worse.


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