Proposed school calendar lives up to spirit of law

An editorial from The Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — West Virginia state law requires that students be in a classroom for 180 days.

Why 180 days? It’s probably a carryover from the 19th and 20th centuries when agriculture was a prominent industry and family members, young and old, were needed to help with the planting and the harvesting of food. Whether it’s a memory of days gone by or a magic number, 180 days is the U.S. standard for the number of days a child should be in the classroom.

It’s a small number, especially if you compare it to other countries. Japan, for example, has set the standard at 240 days on a trimester system that starts in April and ends in March. Students have short breaks between trimesters, which are usually spent studying for entrance exams or keeping up in a highly competitive educational system. It’s not a secret that students in Japan fare much better than American students in almost every single academic area at earlier ages. Is it because they are in the classroom 60 extra days? Maybe, but it also might be the value that the community, the families and local leaders place in the educational system.

It isn’t a day care. It isn’t a social setting. It is a place where children are sent to learn the skills they will eventually need to compete in a global marketplace. It is the foundation for growth — passing one grade prepares them for the next one and the next until a degree is earned.

Their culture places a very high value on personal success in the classroom environment.

Does ours? We really believe that varies from house to house.

But back to state law. Last fall, the West Virginia Board of Education passed a new policy that would grant more flexibility to local school boards by increasing the staff scheduling window from 43 to 48 weeks. Local BOEs would be required to create a calendar that would ensure 180 days in the classroom, no matter the weather, and have that calendar approved by the state. Local public meetings would be required for the community to have input in the decision-making process.

Marion County, we believe, did very well with seeking public interaction about the calendar. In addition to the public meetings, an online survey, with more than 3,000 responses, was used by a calendar committee to come up with three possible school calendars for the 2014-15 year. Those three options were sent to 1,100 employees, with 866 returned by deadline. Though the votes were more evenly split than in the past, the calendar preferred by employees has school starting Aug. 21 for students and ending May 28 with graduation somewhere around May 22.

Holiday breaks will be shorter…

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