Michigan students will be spending more time in class during the upcoming school year, and not everyone is happy about it.
School districts face a state mandate to provide at least 180 days of instruction in 2016-17, up from 175 days the past three years, 170 days in 2012-13 and 165 days before that. It’s up to them how to add the extra time.
“Local school calendars are determined by each local school district ... there is a variety of end-of-school dates,” said Martin Ackley, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education. “There is nothing in state law that prescribes a set date; they just are required to have the legally required amount of days/hours during the school year.”
Most districts are trying to avoid adding a full week of classes at the end of the school year, but many students will face an extra day or more next June.
The Clarkston Community School District changed its schedule of professional development time for teachers, using half-days to allow for most of the additional instruction time required by the state, superintendent Rod Rock said. Still, students will get out one day later — June 16 instead of June 15 — next summer.
“We will add days of instruction to our calendar beginning next year in order to meet this requirement,” Rock said.
The new rule puts Michigan on par with school districts around the country. Those in favor say the extra days in school will make students more competitive, while opponents question the value of adding instructional time.
“The additional instructional days are important and give schools the opportunity to provide real and relevant education to students,” said Randy Speck, superintendent of the Madison District Public Schools in Madison Heights, where the school year will end three days later next summer.
“The achievement gap that exists within our state doesn’t take time off, so the right amount of instructional days are key,” he said.
Arina Bokas, who has three children in the Clarkston Community School District, calls adding extra school days in June “pointless.” She argues that students are tired and struggle to focus in class during hot, early summer days.
“Many schools are not air-conditioned,” said Bokas, a former president of the Clarkston district’s PTA. “Any meaningful learning is very doubtful.”
She concluded: “In my opinion, adding days doesn’t add meaningful instruction or student learning. What it does add is more headache, literally and figuratively speaking.”
Waivers to start earlier
The change has drawn renewed attention to the 2005 state law that prevents public schools from opening until after Labor Day. Some districts have waivers to begin the school before Labor Day, and others have considered seeking them.
In Speck’s district, for instance, students at Madison Elementary School start classes in mid-August under a waiver granted by the Michigan Department of Education, though instead of getting out earlier for the summer, they get longer breaks during the school year under a “balanced calendar.”
But the state’s requirement to add five days means Madison Elementary students will start this school year earlier than last year — Aug. 9 instead of Aug. 11.
“Currently, we are not planning to have our middle schools and high schools apply for the waiver, but that is something we will look to do in the future,” Speck said.
All Madison students will be in classes until June 20 next year, compared with June 17 this year.
“The five days were just incorporated into the calendar ... we go a little later in June,” Speck said.
The Kent Intermediate School District in west Michigan initially applied for a waiver to allow the 20 districts under its umbrella to start classes before Labor Day, but then withdrew the request.
“Our districts plan to adjust their calendar, their holiday and winter breaks to accommodate the additional five days,” said Ron Koehler, assistant superintendent of the district. “Some are already at 180; others will have to add just a couple of days and others, the full amount.”
He said the ISD withdrew its request for a waiver “to give districts more time to process, both internally and externally, the idea of moving to a balanced calendar.”
Exemptions for some
Rock said the Clarkston district decided against the idea of opening school before Labor Day after talking to parents.
“We conducted a survey to our parents regarding the calendar for next year, and there was little to no support for a pre-Labor Day start,” he said.
Some districts, such as the Dearborn Public Schools, are getting a reprieve from adding the extra class time. A provision in the law exempts districts with calendars set under current collective bargaining agreements until those contracts expire.
“We settled our contract with the (Dearborn Federation of Teachers) prior to the 180-day rule taking effect, so we are grandfathered in and will not need to address this until the 2018-19 school year,” said David Mustonen, a spokesman for the Wayne County district.
“The superintendent has a very good working relationship with the Dearborn Federation of Teachers and will work together to develop a calendar that will meet state requirements while at the same time provide our students with a quality learning experience,” he added.