If Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has his way, the Badger State will become the first to stop requiring students in public schools to spend a minimum number of hours in class.
A proposal in Walker’s new budget plan calls for ending the state’s current minimum requirements — 437 hours for kindergarten, 1,050 hours for elementary schools and 1,137 hours for secondary schools — and allowing school districts to do what they want in terms of seat hours for students.
Districts and schools would then be judged on their state report cards, which are produced annually by the Department of Public Instruction, based largely on standardized test scores. During a recent visit to a school in Waukesha to talk up his budget proposal, he said: “To me, the report card is the ultimate measure. It’s not how many hours you are sitting in a chair.”
The reaction? WISN reported: “A spokesperson with the state Department of Public Instruction said the agency has no official position on the governor’s plan but said that overall students need more access to learning, not less.”
Walker’s proposal is in direct opposition to what has been an attempt in recent years by policymakers to expand instructional time in public schools. The Obama administration encouraged schools to add instructional time, with then-President Barack Obama saying in 2009:
We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed for when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of each day. That calendar may have once made sense, but today it puts us at a competitive disadvantage. Our children — listen to this — our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea — every year. That’s no way to prepare them for a 21st century economy. That’s why I’m calling for us … to rethink the school day to incorporate more time -— whether during the summer or through expanded-day programs for children who need it.
But it is in line with thinking of school reformers, such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who are pushing school choice as a top educational priority. That includes a broad increase in digital learning, which can allow students to do academic work on computers whenever they want and take only as much time as they need to learn their assigned work. Public education advocates have warned that digital learning can help certain populations of students but that is a bad idea to park most students in front of computer screens for most or all of their school day.
Most states require 180 days of student instruction, and most specify the minimum amount of time that constitutes an instructional day, according to the Education Commission of the States. The number of hours in instructional days vary significantly by state, too; in Delaware, for example, the state only requires 3.5 hours with a district option to increase it, while other states mandate 6.5-hour or seven-hour instructional days.
Wisconsin and Ohio in recent years moved to using the hour as a unit of measure rather than days — but if Walker has his way, that will go by the wayside too.