I am about to wade into a dangerous topic: How many minutes are in a day?
The answer seems simple: 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, so 1,440 minutes in a day, right? Well that depends on your definition of “day.”
Minutes versus Days: a topic that should not be dominating educational policy, for it’s a distraction from real educational progress.
There has been discussion at the most recent Lafayette Parish School Board meeting on the merits of minutes versus days. A proposed 2014-15 calendar has only 171 student contact days versus 180, the usual number we citizens have taken for granted. That 180 days changed last year with a calendar that included only 174 contact days, and this year’s calendar decreases that by three more. How is this possible, especially when state law mandates that a student be present 167 days of the school year?
The answer to that question concerns minutes versus days. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education changed its formula to allow a minimum number of minutes in a year. For example, Lafayette Parish employs 385 instructional minutes in a day, and even meeting only 171 days will produce 65,835 total minutes, or 9,405 minutes for a class. Central office personnel are using this definition to assure everyone that this amount is still way above the minimum level set by BESE.
This is a lovely numbers game that requires closer scrutiny.
First, I do not consider the present BESE board, comprised of nine members who vote consistently with whatever Bobby Jindal/John White propose as a fountain of wisdom when they more resemble a trickle. Switching to minimum minutes is a charade disguised as alternative education. Theoretically, we could double the length of a school day for 90 days and meet the minimum requirements time-wise, but I guarantee none of those students will have adequately learned their subject material.
Second, minutes are not an accurate measure of education. I provide an example to which many parishes in the state have resorted since that eureka moment of minimum minutes. Whenever a parish has to make up days due to inclement weather, they simply add minutes to each school day. For example, seven minutes in one parish were added to every day from January until school ended, thus adding 630 minutes over 90 days, thus making up almost two days of missed school. Every class each day got a grand extra minute of teaching. Be still our teachers’ hearts. I guarantee you that extra minute over 90 days did not replace the lost two days. It’s a numbers game that fulfills the letter of the law but not the spirit.
Three, 385 instructional minutes is not an accurate measure of Carnegie unit time in high schools, as only 355 minutes actually belong to the seven Carnegie units being taught—and the first period of the day has an extra five minutes for announcements, so this isn’t actually instructional time either. We have seven periods, fifty minutes each, or 350 minutes a day. This parish, however, instituted a Response to Intervention Class (RTI), or an extra eighth class lasting 30 minutes each day. That class is designed to help students in academic distress and act like a study hall for all others. It is not, however, extra minutes for those seven Carnegie classes; it’s an eighth class often nicknamed the skinny. Its minutes are being used to bolster our overall minutes when in actuality, classroom teachers are still only getting 50 minutes a day. The real classroom time total is 8,550 minutes versus the bloated 9,405 minutes total mentioned earlier. When you divide 9,405 minutes by 50 minutes per class, it looks like I actually have 188 contact days, when I really have 171. It’s a manipulation of numbers worthy of a statistician trying to prove something that isn’t there.
Four, if I am going to be judged at the end of the year based on my students’ scores on a test to determine how well they are doing, I have the right to request adequate time to teach my material. Two years ago, I had 9,000 minutes to achieve this goal; now I have 8,550, or five percent less. I have the chance of being ranked ineffective based on unrealistic expectations of achieving greater results with less time and fewer resources.
Minutes versus Days: a topic that should not be dominating educational policy, for it’s a distraction from real educational progress. When policy is being determined by a core group of unqualified Department of Education officials responsible to no one except a governor pining for the presidency, I cannot escape the feeling the inmates are running the asylum.