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What matters most: Quantity or quality

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What matters most: Quantity or quality
Exponent- Telegram Editorial

It appears that Gov. Tomblin and the state Board of Education are intent on seeing that state schoolchildren complete 180 days of school come hell or high water — or, as the case may be, Winter Storm Thor.

The West Virginia Board of Education on Wednesday denied requests by all 27 school districts that applied for make-up-day forgiveness, meaning those districts will have to extend the date of their last days of school to meet the new requirement this year for 180 separate instructional days.

The Harrison County school system was among the 27 counties that applied for the waiver, asking to waive two days that were missed due to weather when a State of Emergency was declared by the governor.

“When the waivers were made available, I thought it was important for us to at least apply, obviously for our students, employees and parents who have things planned for early June,” Harrison Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Manchin said.

Manchin previously restored April 3-6 to the county’s spring break in hopes of the waiver being approved. However, the denied request will not have a major effect on the remainder of the school year for Harrison County, Manchin said.

“The calendar has already been changed,” he said. “Now the last day for students will be June 9.”

Lewis County Schools decided not to apply for the waiver, according to Lewis County Board of Education President Paul Derico. The last day for instruction in Lewis County will be June 10, he said.

Upshur County Schools Superintendent Roy Wager said, “Without the waiver, our last day is going to be June 8.” Upshur also didn’t apply for a waiver.

Legally, the school year cannot go beyond June 30. As of now, some students in parts of West Virginia will be attending class through June 25 — so much for summer vacation.

The 27 school districts requested to use accrued instructional time to count for entire days. Those minutes, which schools build up over time by keeping students in class longer each day than the state-set minimum daily instructional time, normally can be used only to make up delays and early dismissals.

Unfortunately, that tactic has been deemed illegal based on the state law that created the strict, 180 separate instructional days requirement. State school board member Lloyd Jackson noted that students were averaging only 170 days of instruction per year before SB359.

Under the waiver process, districts could have asked to make up school on weekends and holidays to let students out earlier this summer, but no districts did. Perhaps the next step is year-round schools.

Additionally on Wednesday, State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Martirano said he would not forgive make-up days based on the Federal Emergency Management Agency categorizing Winter Storm Thor’s impact on 29 counties as a “federal disaster.”

Martirano stated that he isn’t allowed to forgive such days — the federal disaster declaration must come from the president of the United States to allow the state school superintendent to waive related make-up days.

Most states require 180 days of instruction, but research casts doubt on whether that number actually matters or not — often finding that the positive effects of more instructional time were small and dependent on specific additional factors.

Originally, the state school board offered waivers as options for counties struggling to squeeze in the necessary instructional days established by state law. Gayle Manchin, president of the state BOE, said a closer reading of the law revealed waiver limits.

“Build those days in early,” was the advice from Gayle Manchin to county superintendents who are currently developing next year’s school calendars.

But it begs the question: What is more important — 180 instructional days or the quality of the education attained by the students?

Perhaps state educators should adopt the U.S. Postal Service motto: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” or in the case of public schools, 180 days of instruction.