Students don't go to school as much as they used to

Published: Friday, Feb. 4 2011 5:40 p.m. MST

WEST JORDAN — Mindy Lloyd of West Jordan seems to spend a lot of time at home with her kindergartener.

“I think they have more breaks now than we did when I was in school," Lloyd said.

To many parents, it seems their children spend more time out of the classroom than in front of the teacher. District calendars list several days and holidays when school is closed, such as teacher work days, the end of the term, winter break and days off for parent/teacher conferences.

If it seems like kids aren't in school as much as they used to be, it's because they're not.

Tighter budgets forced districts to cut days out of the calendar. For years, the State Board of Education had strict rules requiring a minimum of 180 days in school. It’s a standard that originated in the 1950s.

“That was sort of the Space Age and in an effort to keep up we had a lot of push to have more and more people go on to college, get a higher education as technology started to explode," Westminster College professor Peter Ingle said.

This year, for the second year in a row, the board offered school districts and charters the option of reducing the total number of 180 school days by five. "If you eliminate instruction days, you're eliminating a large part of the budget," said Mark Peterson, spokesman for the Utah Office of Education.

The Canyons School District opted to take all five furlough days this year; Nebo School District took four days and the Davis School District cut two days out the school year but restored the days back to the calendar after accepting money from the Education Jobs Bill.

Students spent fewer days in school during the first half of the 20th century compared to today's standard. During the 1950-51 school year, students spent an average of 174 days in the classroom. That was after a steady increase over the previous 50 years, which tacked on 36 days to the school year. Ingle pointed out that a student during the early 1900s would have only spent 138 days in school, about seven months of the year.

“A lot of this had to do with as we became an industrial nation, a lot of times students weren't in school because they needed to be helping out with family concerns or farming and that sort of thing," Ingle said.

Education archives and reports indicated noticeable differences between urban and rural districts.      

"The rural districts had fewer days than Salt Lake City or Provo and some of those other places,” Ingle said.    

In the 1930s, students in urban districts like Salt Lake, Provo and Ogden spent an average of 177 days in school. Students in rural districts such as Daggett, Uintah and Cache counties spent an average of 151 days in school.

Eighty years later, the state grapples with a bleak economy and smaller budgets. School districts have been forced to make cuts.

"These last two years, students in about a half a dozen districts and in half a dozen charter schools are in (school) less," said Peterson.

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