Some want to see longer school year
By Alex De Grand

Here's one lawmaker who should be glad fourth graders don't vote.

Among the bills filed in advance of the 2002 legislative session is Rep. Tim Feeley's pet project: Extend the school year.

"I filed this bill last session [and it died]," Feeley said. "But I'll continue to raise the issue."

Feeley submitted a bill last month to address his long-standing concern that there are too many new obligations placed on schools without increasing the time to fulfill them.

"There are more requirements like drug education and mandatory this and mandatory that," Feeley said. "But when teaching Shakespeare, you still need a certain amount of time to teach 'What does King Lear mean?'"

While a lot of people might agree with that assessment, Feeley said the stumbling block is the cost.

Most plans to institute year-round academic calendars simply rearrange the same number of school days so that they are spread more evenly throughout the term. Summer vacations are often shortened and other breaks are lengthened.

Feeley is calling for an additional five instructional days to be added to the school calendar. But that means the state would have to find the extra funding.

"If there's one thing we don't need in this state is another unfunded mandate," said Pam Hammonds, president of the Fayette County Education Association which speaks out on behalf of teachers' interests.

Hammonds' warning that teachers aren't interested in working more without appropriate compensation isn't news to Feeley who estimated his proposal could end up costing about $60 million a year. Feeley admits he doesn't know where the money would come from.

Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, figured the cost of Feeley's bill could even be higher.

"There are about 40,000 teachers in Kentucky and the average teacher salary is about $423.50 a day," Gross said. Multiplying those numbers with five extra days amounts to more than $84 million.

Some school districts have opted to add additional school days to their calendar and pay for them with local money, Gross said. Fayette County, for example, has 190 days in its school calendar - five more than the state's minimum for a school term.

But those extra five days are not used for additional teaching since Fayette County reports it still has just the state-mandated 175 instructional days. (Of the remaining 15 days, Fayette County uses four days to allow professional development, four days as holidays and seven days for "records or conference days" like parent-teacher meetings.)

Gross said the only school district in Kentucky to add instructional time to its calendar is Jefferson County where the school board is experimenting with more days as a way to improve two of its most troubled schools - Shawnee High School and Atkinson Elementary.

With the changes approved in February, the school year at Shawnee and Atkinson began July 19 and will end June 17, 2001.

Shawnee and Atkinson scored around 40 points on a 140-point scale during the most recent round of state testing, prompting Jefferson County officials to target them for improvement. A spokeswoman for the Jefferson County schools said there has not been any testing since the calendar changed to measure the effect.

Research on year-round calendars is divided on the impact.

The U.S. Department of Education is among those strongly supporting year-round schools, echoing many of Feeley's arguments that today's schools are asked to do too many things and not given the time to do them as well as possible.

"For the past 150 years, American public schools have held time constant and let learning vary," a Department of Education report stated. "The rule, only rarely voiced, is simple: learn what you can in the time we make available. It should surprise no one that some bright, hard-working students do reasonably well. Everyone else - from the typical student to the dropout runs into trouble."

Other proponents of year-round school argue the method eliminates long summer vacations during which students forget things and lose valuable time at the start of the new term relearning them.

But other organizations such as the British Columbia Teachers Federation have studied American year-round schools and concluded many of the claims of academic improvement are exaggerated or possibly misleading.

For example, the BCTF noted, many schools introduce a year-round calendar with other innovations so it is difficult to say which change is responsible for a particular result.

Indeed, Jefferson County introduced the additional school days as part of a larger, $2.5 million plan that also includes professional development for teachers and academic improvements that focus on literacy, math and technology.

But Feeley said other states are moving toward longer academic terms and he doesn't want Kentucky to be left behind.

And history may be on Feeley's side.

The federal government records the average length of the school term has gradually increased from 132.2 days in the 1869-70 academic year to 178.9 days in the 1969-70 term to about 180 days today.

Alex De Grand can be reached at 225-4889 ext. 232 or


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