The Republican-led General Assembly, even while slashing everywhere else, last year decided, without a compelling explanation, that five extra days of school would fix some of the problems that plague our public schools.
Many local systems, including the Public Schools of Robeson County, asked for and received an exemption for the current school year, but word is that they won’t be so easily granted for the 2012-13 school year — and that more than 60 percent of the state’s systems will be making the request.
Officials with the Robeson County system, one of the largest in the state with 43 schools and 24,000 students, say the extra days add up quickly, to a cost of as much as $400,000 a year to twice that. The Public Schools of Robeson County, like all school systems, is cash-strapped, but the situation is more dire here because of widespread poverty.
Additionally, school systems are looking for flexibility with the start date for a school year. Several years ago, the General Assembly, bowing to the tourism industry, adopted a state law requiring the school year to begin no earlier than Aug. 25. Tourism officials had complained that shorter summers were hurting the industry by denying families that final beach trip in mid-August because school had started.
So the additional five days have been a double whammy for school systems, squeezing the calendar and the finances.
And for what?
We understand that fundamentally more days in the classroom should mean more is learned. To offer an exaggeration, 25 days in class would obviously be better than a single day. But diminishing returns suggest that 185 days of class is only going to be marginally better than 180 days, if at all, and might not be worth the additional cost, or the inconvenience.
We are all for initiatives to enhance education in North Carolina’s public schools, but see the five-day mandate as what it is — something lawmakers can point to as evidence of their commitment to education, but not much more.
If lawmakers really want to improve our schools, then unpopular decisions are required, ones that include, but aren’t limited to, returning discipline to the schools, providing for flexibility in the classroom, and enabling school systems get rid of sorry teachers.
When those initiatives are being discussed, then we will know the General Assembly is serious about improving our schools.