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N.C. Districts Extend School Year to 200 Days

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A pilot project that would extend the school year in two districts to 200 days--making theirs the longest school year in the country--was approved this month by the North Carolina state legislature. The three-year project would also lengthen the school day from six to seven hours.

The plan will test the theory that children can learn more if they spend more time in the classroom, said C.D. Spangler, chairman of the state board of education and the plan's chief sponsor. "We feel this is true, but we don't know for certain. We need to make this experiment."

Mr. Spangler said the new schedule would give each student one-third more instruction time each year.

On July 15, the legislature allocated $2.2 million for the project, to be divided between the two districts that volunteered for the pilot. Teachers in the districts will receive a 10-percent salary increase and a 5- percent bonus. The project also allows the districts a free rein in deciding how to use the additional instructional time.

Until now, New York State's 190-day school year has been the longest in the country; Kentucky and Ohio follow, with 185 and 182 days respectively, according to a spokesman at the Education Commission of the States. More than half of the states, including North Carolina, require 180 days, he said.

This year, several national reports on education have urged longer school days and years as a way to improve the achievement of U.S. students and their standing relative to students of other advanced nations. Mr. Spangler said he was strongly influenced by these reports.

Before receiving final approval, the pilot project must go through public hearings in the two volunteer school districts, said Tom I. Davis, spokesman for the state's education department. This week, the 13-member state board was expected to make its decision, based on the opinions voiced at those hearings.

Public Opposition

There has been some public opposition to the concept, officials conceded. Opponents have expressed concern about the districts' lack of air-conditioned buildings and the possibility of over-tiring the children, said Susan Dobbins, director of special programs for the Polk County Schools, one of the two volunteer districts. Only two of the state's 143 school districts volunteered for the project when it was announced by the state board of education in June.

However, spokesmen for the two participating districts said they perceived public opinion in their communities to be generally supportive of the concept. Teachers' unions have not opposed the plan, a spokesman for the North Carolina Association of Educators said.

If the plan is implemented, the two districts would have to add 20 more school days per year to their calendars.

One of the two, Halifax County Schools in the northeastern area of the state, is a rural district that is 90 percent black and has few air-conditioned classrooms, said James A. Clark, the superintendent. School will begin August 15, five days earlier than usual, and end seven days later in June, he said. The other days will be gained by reducing vacation time.

Mr. Clark said he welcomes the plan because his district's achievement-test scores are among the lowest 5 percent in the state, and the school system "needs to look at every possible way to overcome learning problems."

In the Polk school system, a low-income district in the mountainous southwestern region of the state where 85 percent of the student population is white, school will also start one week earlier in August, and many vacation and teacher workdays during the winter will become schooldays, according to Ms. Robbins.

Polk County staff members backed the plan because it offered opportunities for more state support, Ms. Robbins said.

For example, a state-paid consultant from Raleigh has already spent five days with local staff members overhauling the high-school curriculum in preparation for the pilot project, and new teachers have been hired to teach advanced mathematics and chemistry--two new subjects being added to the expanded curriculum, according to Ms. Robbins.

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