Youngsters who think school goes on forever may have to add four weeks a year to that estimate if the Ogden School District proceeds with a proposal to extend the school year by 20 days.
The district board accepted a plan Monday night to study the option over the next six months. The proposal would see children in school from the first week in August through the end of June, with breaks of several days to a week throughout the calendar, instead of the traditional three-month summer vacation. In all, children would be in class 200 days a year, bringing their school experience closer to that of students in other countries. Utah students now attend school 180 days a year.State school officials and legislators are interested in the Ogden proposal and the plan could become a statewide pattern if it proves feasible.
"Our kids don't go to school as much as other kids in international comparisons," said Reed Spencer, principal of Carl Taylor Elementary School. "I don't see how we can expect them to compete with countries whose students go to school 33 percent more (See related chart)."
Spencer and a fellow principal, Rich Moore of Lynn Elementary, took seriously a challenge to Utah educators to devise educational options that would move the state toward a more child-centered system. They have spent weeks developing a tentative calendar and trying to identify relevant cost factors.
Spencer and Moore believe their proposal could be implemented without prohibitive cost increases. Although the school year would be increased by 11 percent, teacher costs would not rise that much because they propose using paraprofessionals to supplement classroom instruction.
Teachers would have every other Friday off on a staggered schedule so half of a school's professional staff would be present on any Friday. The teachers would be responsible for planning a day's work that would be directed by a paraprofessional in their absence. They should be paid for the preparation time, Spencer said.
"Paraprofessionals wouldn't do the same job teachers do day in and day out," said Moore, "but if they are carefully selected, we think they could offer some good
things." The plan would help prevent teacher burnout, a serious problem in today's classroom, where instructors face "up to 300 stressful encounters every day."
The principals said they believe there is a sufficient pool of retired teachers, student teachers and others to staff classrooms under the Friday-off plan.
One of their most compelling selling points was the reduction in "regression time" related to the long summer holiday. Children spend the first 20 days of a new school year recouping both academic and behavioralskills, Spencer said. The principals estimated that at least 15 days of regression could be avoided by their calendar, in which a month would be the longest break. Added to the 20 days of actual class time, students would realize 35 days of productive learning time, he said.
While a thorough study of the financial implications is necessary, Spencer and Moore estimated the additional instructional costs to a school with 18 teachers to be approximately $16,650. Start-up costs for the year-round program would include air conditioning schools, and there would be ongoing additional expenses in such budget categories as transportation, said Superintendent James West.
Deputy State Superintendent Scott W. Bean said he was intrigued with the possibility of a longer school year statewide and estimated that it could be accomplished for "around $20 million" if the Ogden concept were followed. He said state officials will closely watch what happens in the Ogden District. District officers also met recently with area legislators who expressed interest in the proposal, West said.
Children in many countries attend school many more days each year than do American children.
European average 220