the skinny on the school day

So – ever wonder who determined the length of the school day and why our children are free to wander about unfettered for three months out of every year? Here in Farmington we follow a 6.5 hour school day and our kids go to school approximately 182 days out of the year. For those of you out there without a pocket calculator handy that equates to almost exactly half of the calendar year and 14 hours a day that our kids are NOT in school. According to the National Cetner for Education Statistics (http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pss/tables/table_2004_06.asp) the US on average sends their children to school 180.4 days a year and kids spend 6.7 hours per day in their hallowed hallways. Each state is left to its own devices to determine the length of the school day and the length of the school year. Now back in the 1800’2 when our beautiful country was just getting established and public school became part of the norm it was quite useful to have Johnny and Sally home from school well before dusk and off during the planting and harvest seasons. After all there was work to do on the farm – those cows weren’t gonna milk themselves! But nowadays how many of us actually live on a farm? For that matter how many of us are even off of work at the same time that our children come home from school? Unless you’re a school teacher I would wager that would be a slim few of us. The school years has remained unchanged for nearly a century – I don’t know of anything else in our society that has remained so static! School start and end time is usually dependent upon the bussing schedule – different types of schools start at different times to allow the same bus to be used for multiple “runs” of students. According to the New Mexico Public Education website the minimum required hours of instruction are as follows:
“A.Except as otherwise provided in this section, regular students shall be in school-directed programs, exclusive of lunch, for a minimum of the following:
1.kindergarten, for half-day programs, two and one-half hours per day or four hundred fifty hours per year or, for full-day programs, five and one-half hours per day or nine hundred ninety hours per year;
2.grades one through six, five and one-half hours per day or nine hundred ninety hours per year; and
3.grades seven through twelve, six hours per day or one thousand eighty hours per year.
B.Thirty-three hours of the full-day kindergarten program may be used for home visits by the teacher or for parent-teacher conferences. Twenty-two hours of grades one through five programs may be used for home visits by the teacher or for parent-teacher conferences.
C.Nothing in this section precludes a local school board from setting length of school days in excess of the minimum requirements established by Subsection A of this section.
D.The state superintendent [secretary] may waive the minimum length of school days in those districts where such minimums would create undue hardships as defined by the state board [department].”
Essentially our school board can opt to make the school day and school year longer which may well be in the best interest of our children since the US is ranked 17th in the world on quality of education and performance of students. We are one of the only industrialized nations that does not require our children to attend school on Saturday – then again we are one of only a handful of nations that prescribes to the 5 days on 2 days off work week adage.
So in essence if you would like to see the length of the school day changed you must petition the school board and get enough parents on your side to force the change to happen. As with anything else in our children’s education it is up to us as parents to be the force of change!

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