Teaching Profession

More Time for Teachers, or for Students? Utah Proposal Raises Debate

By Alyssa Morones — February 10, 2014 2 min read
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This post originally appeared on the Time and Learning blog

Here’s an interesting news development that raises a series of interesting questions: What is the best amount, and best use, of class time? Is it better to have more contact time between students and teachers—or to make sure teachers have lots of time on their own at school to make sure their instruction is tip-top? Where should the balance be struck?

Those are questions raised by a piece of Utah legislation that would allow districts to use up to eight class days, or 60 hours, of class time annually for professional development. The bill got one step closer to legal realization this week after a senate panel advanced the legislation, reports the Daily Herald.

The state’s current formula for funding schools requires schools to meet a 180 day class time requirement, but the bill would prevent districts from being financially penalized for holding fewer, as long as the days were used for professional development.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Aaron Osmond, a Republican, argued before the committee that the extra days for professional development would help teachers become better at their jobs, according to the Herald article.

“When a teacher is highly trained and they have time to prepare for their classes, they have a significant impact on academic results in the classroom,” he said.

The Utah Education Association recognized Osmond’s attempt at finding a way to give teachers more opportunities for professional development, but is concerned that fewer instructional days would not benefit Utah students, according to the Herald.

Sarah Jones, director of education excellence for the UEA, added that as teacher compensation is aligned with student performance, fewer hours in front of students would not be advantageous.

The debate is especially interesting considering that most of the policy discussions on the use of learning time have been on increasing class time, not reducing it, especially amid common core implementation. But it’s worth nothing that more instructional time may not be beneficial unless the additional instruction itself is high quality.

Of course, eight days of professional development aren’t necessarily a panacea, especially given that so little is still known about what constitutes good professional development.

The union said it would prefer that the Legislature increase the funding devoted to the state education system, back to its pre-recession levels. Jones didn’t say, though, the actual feasibility of this request.

The bill’s other core idea—more flexibility for districts in organizing schedules—isn’t unheard of: Many states are switching their class time requirements to hours instead of days. Last year, I wrote about a district in Iowa implemented a four day school week as a way to squeeze in more professional development time and opportunities for enrichment activities.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.