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Bills in Calif. Legislature Would Require Longer School Day

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Sacramento--When they discovered that California's 4.1 million public-school students receive substantially less instructional time than students elsewhere in the nation, three state senators here decided to do something about it.

Last month, they introduced three different bills in the legislature, each aimed at lengthening the time students spend in school. Their intent, said the senators, is to raise student achievement in California.

Loss of Instruction

The introduction of the bills followed the release of a study showing that the typical student in a public school outside of California has as much instruction by Thanksgiving of his 11th-grade year as the California student has by the end of his 12th grade-year. "Over his public-school career," said the study, "the California student loses the equivalent of 254 days of instruction by having a school day 31.9 minutes shorter than other schools." Additionally, the same student loses 39 days over the same kindergarten-through-12th-grade career due to the state's shorter school year.

The study, conducted by Tod A. Anton, superintendent of the Lincoln Unified School District in Stockton, Calif., also found that schools in the East have the longest school year and schools in the West have the longest school day.

A lack of summer-school opportunities also places California students at a disadvantage, Mr. Anton said. "While 94 percent of California's school districts reported offering summer school, enrollment was narrowly limited to special-education students and secondary minimum-competency-deficient students," he explained, noting that no districts in the state opened their summer schools to "most students." In contrast, 43.5 percent of the reporting districts out-side California offer programs "open to most students."

"At every grade level, kindergarten through grade 12, the California instructional day ... is substantially shorter than that in other states," Mr. Anton said. "Every section in the country--East, South, Midwest, and West--has a longer school day."

Average Difference

"Combining all grade levels from kindergarten through grade 12," he continued, "we found that the average difference in instructional minutes per day between California schools and those of the rest of the nation is 31.9 minutes."

In grades one through three, Mr. Anton said, 58 percent of districts nationwide have a school day of 315 minutes or longer, compared with about 4 percent of California districts. At the fifth-grade level, 67 percent of districts outside of California reported 315 or more instructional minutes per day, while only 25 percent of the California districts had days that long. Similar gaps were found at most other grade levels.

A 315-minute instructional day, he pointed out, could begin at 8 A.M., conclude at 2:30 P.M., and have two 15-minute recesses and a 45-minute lunch period.

Shorter Days in California

The study found that while 15 percent of the districts outside of California reported school days of 355 minutes or more in grades one through three, no California district reported days that long. At the 11th-grade level, only 3.7 percent of California districts reported 355-minute days compared to 35 percent of districts elsewhere.

A 355-minute day, Mr. Anton said, could begin at 8 A.M. and end at 3:10 P.M. with a 45-minute lunch period and two 15 minute recesses.

Mr. Anton's sample of Midwest school districts revealed that they have a longer school day in grades one through nine than any other region of the country.

The length of the school day in kindergarten had the greatest variation, Mr. Anton said. The national mean was 191.2 minutes. Southern schools had the longest kindergarten day, while the schools in the East had the shortest day.

Fewer Instructional Days

In addition to revealing that California's school day is the nation's shortest, Mr. Anton's study also found that the number of instructional days per school year for California's schools is approximately 176, compared to 177.9 in the Midwest, 179 in the South, 179.2 in the West (excluding California), and 180.4 in the East. Two of the measures introduced into California state legislature, SB 1638 and SB 1685, would lengthen the school day for California students from 20 to 90 minutes depending on grade levels. The third bill, SB 1812, calls for lengthening the number of California school days per year from the current minimum of at least 175 days to at least 185 days, 10 days more than currently required and five days more than are required by most districts elsewhere in the country.

The three bills face opposition from the California Teacher's Association and the California State Department of Education because no additional funding is provided for the increased time that would be required for teachers.

Supporters of the measures, on the other hand, say that since teacher pay remained the same when the school day and the school year were reduced after the passage of Proposition 13, it should not be increased when the school day and year are lengthened again.

Hearings on the three bills are scheduled before the Senate education committee on April 14.

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