School day may lengthen in next year

System to suggest adding time to meet requirement

15 more minutes daily

High schools' hours deficit leads state to seek action

Howard County

January 08, 2004|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Howard County's 47,000-plus students may have to spend more time in school next year - 15 minutes a day - after it was reported that high schools have routinely come up short in state-mandated class time, education officials said yesterday.

The proposal to lengthen the school day on tonight's Board of Education agenda occurs after a Sun article last month showed Howard was over-reporting class time to the State Department of Education, which requires that high schools be in session for a minimum of 1,170 hours each academic year.

This year, and in a plan for next year, most Howard high schools will be in session for 1,128 hours. County educators had been telling the state that the school system was in compliance, because officials were counting time spent getting on and off buses as part of the day. Only the time between opening and closing bells should be counted, according to the state.

State officials called the Howard practice unacceptable and have been working with the county to add the missing hours in a school year, which account for more than a month of education over four years of high school. That instruction time could become crucial if passing assessment tests is linked to graduation, which the state is considering.

"A lot of school systems are looking at their calendars right now anyway, actually because of state testing and accountability," said Maryland Assistant Superintendent Ron Peiffer. "I've heard a lot from superintendents that they want to have as much teaching time in before the tests [as they can]."

Tonight, school system representatives will recommend extending Howard's school day from 6 1/2 hours to 6 3/4 hours for at least the high schools, but more likely for all grades, said spokeswoman Patti Caplan - though only the high schools have been falling short on time.

"If we were to just do it at the high school level and not move the elementary and middle schools, it would cost an additional $430,000 in transportation," Caplan said, adding that it was too late to correct the schedule this year.

Peiffer agreed, calling immediate changes "not fair to families" who "don't necessarily like changing schedules in the middle of the year."

Howard has been unable to provide the requisite number of high school hours largely because of the number of half-days in the calendar, Caplan said.

This year, high school students will be sent home early 12 times - causing them to lose 42 hours of instruction - so that teachers can have contractually promised time to hold conferences, plan classes, administer exams and grade papers.

"Adding 15 minutes seems to be the most feasible, the most productive and the most instructionally sound way to [meet the requirement] and still provide the time we want to for our teachers," Caplan said, adding that eliminating half-days is unrealistic at this point - particularly for high schools, which, under county policy, use many of the days to administer exams.

However, teachers still will lose planning time if the lengthened day is adopted by the school board, said Joseph R. Staub Jr., president of the Howard County Education Association, because that time will come from a portion set aside for other things.

"When I look at the big picture, there's a legitimate need for instruction time," Staub said. "The tradeoff is that it's going to reduce the amount of noninstructional time that teachers have to do all the work that they're being asked to do. I'm sure there will be teachers that will be very, very upset about losing what is in essence [daily] planning time for them."

A public hearing on next year's calendar proposal will be held tonight during the board's 7:30 session.

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