Puttin’ In The (Seat) Time

And the alterations to life here in the overly-large school district just keep coming. The superintendent and school board also want to change the calendar, although their proposal and the reasons for it are rather mundane, and more about administrative convenience than instructional improvement.

Currently students in our system are scheduled to attend 183 days of school, which include 3 more than the state requires to allow for weather closings. But this year we had 11 snow days, resulting in canceled holidays and teacher workdays, and pushing the closing date to June 25. In the not too distant past we’ve missed more days, like the Snowmageddon of 2010.

To better cope with such disruptions1, the plan is to use the alternative accounting method allowed by the state, counting class time in hours, 990 of them to be exact. But that switch would require a much bigger alteration for many students.

Elementary schools in our system would fall short of the 990 number of hours because they send the kids home a few hours early on Mondays to give their teachers time for planning. So the superintendent says that early closing has to go, which is something that’s been pushed by some very vocal parents for many years anyway, thus making another constituent group happy.

Anyway, as I said, rather mundane changes and really, in the long term, meaningless.

Because whether your unit is days or hours, we continue to measure the value of learning based on seat time. Someone in Richmond decided that 180 days/990 hours was the magic number, and if a student spends less that amount of time in a classroom they cannot possibly accumulate enough knowledge to… well, we all know “enough” is a passing grade on the SOL.

However, that accounting method completely ignores the fact that some students require less time than their peers to master a subject, and that it’s very possible for many kids to meet class requirements without sitting in a classroom for a prescribed number of hours.

What doesn’t change in all this hoopla is the century-old concept of the “academic” calendar, where learning starts in August or September, ends in May or June, and breaks for the summer months. Except, of course, for those kids who received failing grades in something and must make up everything they didn’t understand in one-fourth the time during summer school. 2

Wasting a lot of time and effort on the process of starting up schools in the fall and shutting them down in the fall, not to mention conveying to both students and community the message that “official” learning is limited by the clock and calendar.


Jen, who teaches in one of our elementary schools, as well has having her own children in the system, will be impacted far more than I will by these calendar changes and sees another reason for eliminating the early Monday closing. Go read her thoughts on this issue.


  1. Which global climate change is also likely to make worse.

  2. One of the most feared terms in the English language.

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