School & District Management

Washington Districts Eye Ways to Meet Mandate for Extended Learning Time

By Alyssa Morones — December 31, 2013 2 min read
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School districts in Washington state are grappling with the best way to tack on additional class time, as a state mandate takes effect next fall that calls on schools to deliver 1080 hours of instructional time for middle and high school students each year, the Tri-City Herald newspaper reports.

To meet the mandate of at least 1,080 hours annually (up from 1,000 currently), some district officials are weighing the idea of reducing the number of early-release days for students, or adding as much as 15 minutes to each school day, the story finds.

The state requirement was enacted in 2009, but the original implementation scheduled was pushed back by the legislature in 2011 because of state budget cuts for K-12 education. But as part of a budget approved earlier this year, lawmakers stipulated that the mandate must be met this coming fall. (For grades 1-6, state law requires at least 1,000 hours of instruction each school year.)

For more details on the state policy, check out this overview by one of the state’s educational service districts.

The current 1,000 hours of class time in Washington is usually spread over a 180 day school-year, for an average of 5.5 hours of class time each day, the Tri-City Herald story notes. Although the change does not affect elementary students at this time, school officials told the newspaper that they anticipate state requirements will eventually extend learning time across all grade levels.

The Tri-City Herald story notes that even as some school officials are mulling the use of early-release days to help meet the new requirement, such time is typically used for professional development and collaboration time for teachers and administrators.

“We’re already struggling to provide staff proper time for training and development,” Rick Schulte, superintendent of the Richland school district, located in southeast Washington, told the newspaper.

Lengthening the school day, though, would also come with its caveats. As the same story notes, districts would be required to renegotiate teacher contracts and would have to readjust athletic and activity schedules—an exercise that would cost districts both time and money.

Of course, the push for more learning time at school is not unique to Washington, though there certainly are ways to approach it beyond a statewide mandate for a fixed number of hours. More and more schools and districts are exploring ways to extend learning time. Last month, we reported on the expansion of the TIME (Time for Innovation Matters in Education) Collaborative’s multistate effort to put expanded learning time models in more schools. The Education Commission of the States has a full list of state day and time requirements here.

It is of note, though, that many states are moving toward listing their class time requirements only in hours, rather than days, allowing for more flexibility for innovation in learning schedules. For example, one Iowa district is taking advantage of the state’s more-flexible time requirements by implementing a four-day school week. They are using this new schedule to squeeze in additional time for student enrichment and professional development.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.