The Maryland State Board of Education has approved a plan to extend the school year by 20 days -- from 180 to 200. Supporters of the proposal say the extra days are needed because students are being asked to learn more, and because too much of what students learn during the school year gets forgotten over the summer vacation.
But lengthening the school year is just one answer to the problem -- and it may not be the best. For example, lengthening the school day by one hour -- as Baltimore city officials have suggested -- would add about the same amount of actual class time as 20 extra school days. And it would cost substantially less. An extra month of school in Baltimore city could cost as much as $35 million, and that might be better spent on purchasing more books or paying for after-school enrichment programs.
Moreover, with Baltimore about to embark on a system of decentralization, under which principals would have more say in how their schools are run, a law which mandates the huge costs of a longer year could leave little left over for reforms. State school board president Robert C. Embry, who opposed the 200-day year, voiced that concern when he said the state plan would, "limit the discretion of the local school systems as to how they will spend their funds."
There is general agreement that students could benefit from more time in class. But every system is different. Some might benefit from a longer year, others from a restructured day or even a system patterned on the college semester. The state should provide the resources for a variety of options -- then let local school boards and educators decide which are best for them.