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Democrat Proposes Longer School Year; Teachers Union Skeptical

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A Democratic state lawmaker has introduced a bill that would lengthen the school year.

Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports.

Term limited Democrat Eric Kearney of Cincinnati only has around 60 days left in his seat in the Ohio Senate. But before he leaves, Kearney says he wants to add 38 days to the school year, which he says will bring Ohio kids up to the schooling standards in other industrialized countries such as China, Japan, Germany and Australia. 

“You work year round, right? So why can’t our kids do that? Now, they don’t have to work eight hour days all the time, but it’s got to be something that reflects the modern economy. I mean, the calendar we have now, it’s just ancient. It doesn’t fit the kind of environment we’re in right now.”

And Kearney says while previous efforts to add time to the school calendar have been shot down by lawmakers, he’s optimistic because of new testing requirements that have been added to the school year, including the Third Grade Reading Guarantee embraced by Gov. John Kasich and Republican lawmakers. 
“If we were to expand the school year, there wouldn’t be this pressure on teachers to always teach to the test and just focus on that. They could expand the subjects that they teach and go more in depth on various issues.”

But the state’s two teachers’ unions are concerned. Melissa Cropper heads the smaller of the two, the Ohio Federation of Teachers, who says she’s not opposed to conversations about changing the school calendar, but there are a lot of deeper level issues involved that deserve community input. 
“What I’m afraid it would do would be to lead to more testing instead of more instructional time – the legislature would take a look at it and say, oh, now we have more days that we can do this. What I think they should really need to be looking at is, are we doing testing appropriately? Are we using testing for the right reasons? And should we reduce the amount of testing that we’re doing in order to allow for more instructional time?”

The state’s largest teachers’ union is even more skeptical. Becky Higgins leads the Ohio Education Association, and says changing around the school calendar is a local issue. And she’s says it would cost a lot of money add more than a month to teachers’ schedules and to keep facilities and support staff going year round, when schools are still dealing with a $500 million deficit from cuts in Kasich’s first budget. 
“We need to have a broader conversation about what this bill entails and what would be best for the students. And we believe that that conversation always needs to be taking place at the local level because they know their students, they know their community, they know what makes for best education in that particular school district.”

Kearney agrees on the involvement of local districts, which he says could structure the calendar to add days while scheduling around the needs of families and students. It’s very unlikely Kearney’s proposal will go anywhere, especially in the short time he has remaining in the Senate. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate 2-1, and in the past, parents have also raised complaints about the impacts of a proposed lengthening of the school year on family vacations, on sports schedules, and on teenagers’ part-time jobs.

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