More school days might not equal more school time

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and challenger Knute Buehler each want a minimum180-day school year, but neither has suggested increasing the instructional hours mandated by the state.

Gov. Kate Brown and Rep. Knute Buehler, GOP nominee for governor, have both proposed a mandate for a minimum 180-day school year — in line with the national average.

At an average of 162 days (it differs for each school district), Oregon has one of the shortest school years in the nation.

The only state law that dictates how long students have to be in class sets a minimum number of instructional hours: 900 for elementary and middle school pupils, 990 for grades 9-11 and 960 for grade 12.

Yet neither candidate’s education policy proposal specifically augments the number of instructional hours.

When asked how Buehler would address instructional hours, he said he would “increase the minimum required academic hours proportionate to the extra days.”

“Every Oregon child deserves a full and quality education,” he said. “Unfortunately, too many kids for too many years have been denied this,”

Kate Kondayen, a press secretary in the governor’s office, said a longer school year would “likely” result in more instructional hours “but not automatically.” It would depend on the district and its existing school calendar.

“The governor wants to ensure that Oregon’s students have the same access to opportunities for learning as students in other states that have longer school years,” Kondayen said.

An increase in instructional time with a certified teacher has shown to improve literacy and math achievement, though with small effects, according to a study by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance in July 2014. Longer instructional time had a greater impact for students who were previously performing below standards or who had attention deficit, hyperactivity or other disorders, the study found.

School districts have to affirm each school year that they have met the requirement for instructional hours but don’t report specific numbers.

The Oregon Department of Education, however, tracks each school district’s number of school days because that count is used to estimate attendance, which is used in the formula for divvying out money from the State School Fund, said Mike Wiltfong, ODE director of school finance.

“Many schools and districts have various schedules, some with four-day weeks and some with year-round school, which changes the weighing/value of each session day,” Wiltfong said. “Session days (are) the common denominator used to make sure we are applying equity in our equalization formula.”​