Hoppy Kercheval: 180 days of instruction means 180 days of instruction

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Hoppy Kercheval: 180 days of instruction means 180 days of instruction

Gov. Tomblin spent considerable time in his 2013 State of the State address talking about improving public education in West Virginia.
One of his proposals included a requirement that students have 180 separate instructional days.

“We need to get back to a place of common sense in our approach to education. Otherwise, we will never get to an adequate level of instructional time,” the governor said. “Instead, we will be stuck, like we were last year, where our students only averaged 170 days of instructional time.”

The Legislature responded by passing Senate Bill 359. The new law included a series of education reforms, from ensuring that all children read on grade level by the end of the 3rd grade to empowering teachers to participate in a revised hiring process that focused more on qualifications than seniority.

The new law also gave local school boards what they asked for — greater flexibility to develop their school calendar — as long as they provided for 180 classroom days. It was evident that the governor and public policy makers were serious about making instructional time a priority.

However, this year the state Board of Education has received requests from at least 27 of the state’s 55 counties asking for a waiver of the 180 day requirement. The counties complain they’ll have to hold classes well into June to make up for all the snow days.

Tomblin is not budging. “The governor has been steadfast throughout his career, saying that 180 days is important,” Tomblin’s Communications Director Chris Stadelman said on MetroNews Talkline. “We need to have kids getting instruction in school.”

The state Board of Education agrees. Board President Gayle Manchin said, “The West Virginia Board of Education remains firm on the importance of providing 180 separate days of instructional time.”

The often-heard criticism of the requirement is that there’s no particular magic to the 180 number. That’s partially correct. However, there’s plenty of research showing a correlation between instructional time and achievement.

If, as some argue, the number of instructional days is not important, then why have any standard? Go to school for 163 days or 149 days or 51 days.

The 180 benchmark is an indicator that public education is important, and that West Virginia takes seriously Article XII of the state Constitution requiring “a thorough and efficient system of free schools.”

True, the students, parents and teachers in these 27 counties may be inconvenienced if the state Board of Education follows through on its earlier declaration to hold counties accountable to the law.

However, they will also know that West Virginia is serious about the importance of children being in the classroom.

Every county school system in the state will be aware of that when they develop their school calendar for next year.

Kercheval is host of Talkline, broadcast statewide by the MetroNews Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon weekdays.