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The Magic Number

Around this time every year, the school board for our overly large school district approves the calendar for the next academic year. The process involves working around inviolable holidays, setting teacher workdays, finding room for professional development days, and so on.

And somebody on the board staff calculates everything so that the calendar includes at least 990 hours of class time.

Why 990 hours? Because the state of Virginia says so.

Why did the wise folks in Richmond settle on 990 hours? No clue.

A search for that number on the DOE site finds more than 500 documents, mostly relating to forms that must be filed and what happens if a district misses that target (it seems to start with a loss of cash).

Nothing about why 990 hours.1 No references to research showing that to be the ideal amount of time for student classroom learning in a 12 month period.

The 990 number doesn’t even seem to stem from the traditional 180 days in a school year. Or to the 120 hours of “contact time” in a traditional Carnegie Unit for high school courses. It just seems to be the number that everyone has agreed on.

And no one, least of all our school board, wants to tempt the consequences resulting from kids having one less minute of that magic seat time.


  1. Mark

    I’m guessing the 990 hours do sort of stem from the 180 days in a school year, since 990 is conveniently 5.5 x 180. Must be 5.5 hours per day for 180 days is the minimum.

    • tim

      I do believe you are correct, Mark. Buried on the Virginia DOE website it says that a “standard school day is defined as a calendar day that averages at least 5-1/2 instructional hours”.

      Ok, so now I have to ask why 5-1/2 hours was chosen as the idea length, especially since that amount is deemed appropriate regardless of whether the student is 6 or 16.

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