Photo by Robert Doisneau
photo by Robert Doisneau

It’s no secret that state and local budget cuts have been putting pressure on education. A recently published New York Times article discusses one of the many outcomes of this pressure– decreased class time. It seems many institutions are dealing with a smaller budget by creating a shorter school day. “Thousands of school districts across the nation are gutting summer-school programs, cramming classes into four-day weeks or lopping days off the school year.”

This is a surprising development considering our current administration’s stance on education reform. At his 2009 confirmation hearing, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared,

“Our school day is too short, our school week is too short, our school year is too short.”

This view is based on several factors, among them our desire to compete with more education-savvy nations who enforce much longer school days. Many educators will also agree that over the summer months, many students forget what they’ve learned and need to be re-instructed come fall.

Several states, including Arizona, California, and Nevada, have cut entire days from their school year. Some schools that have been forced to add time as a means of improving the quality of education seem to be misusing that time. A recent report found that,

“several districts visited by federal inspectors were out of compliance. In Reno, Nev., for example, officials found that Smithridge Elementary School was using the 15 minutes it had added each morning for breakfast, not academics.”

The news isn’t all bad, however. Some states that have received stimulus money have been able to use those dollars to actually increase time in the classroom. Here, Pittsburgh got a special shout-out:

“In Pittsburgh, for example, $11 million in federal stimulus money is being used this summer to provide 5,300 students — more than twice the 2,400 enrolled last year — 23 additional days of math and reading instruction in a camplike atmosphere that converts some of the city’s museums, recording studios and even bicycle-repair shops into classrooms.”

For schools that are able to increase class time, the benefit is undeniable. For example, a school district in Pheonix recently adopted a 200 day school year in 2009-10. “After one year of the new schedule, reading scores jumped 43 percent in Grades 5 and 6 and 19 percent in Grades 3 and 4.” Its easy to assume that cutting back on school time could have proportionately negative results.

What do you think? Read the Times article here and join the debate.