Some schools offer weeks more class time than others

Kettering Middle School classroom on the first day of school last week. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
Caption
Kettering Middle School classroom on the first day of school last week. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

The amount of time children spend learning inside classrooms could vary by the equivalent of multiple weeks per year depending on the school they attend, a Dayton Daily News analysis of school calendars showed.

This isn’t a COVID issue — it’s simply because each school district decides its own calendar, both for the number of school days (varying locally from 162 at Mad River to 179 at Oakwood), and the number of hours in those days.

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Troy schools scheduled more instructional hours than most local districts, with Superintendent Chris Piper saying, “We think it’s incredibly important how many hours our students spend in class.”

Kettering schools have longer hours than most at the high school but shorter hours at the elementary level, because “younger students have more of a challenge sustaining their focus and attention,” assistant superintendent Dan Von Handorf said.

“Time on task certainly matters for students and teachers,” Von Handorf said. “However, research is very clear that it is far more important what the teacher does during the time that impacts student learning.”

State minimum hours

Years ago, the Ohio Department of Education switched their standard school year from a set number of days (like the 180 many of us grew up with), to a minimum number of hours.

Public schools, career tech centers and most private schools now must be “open for instruction” at least 910 hours for students in full-day kindergarten through grade 6; and 1,001 hours for students in grades 7-12.

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Lunch, breakfast and extracurriculars cannot count as instruction time, but up to 30 minutes of recess per day can count for elementary students. And schools can include up to four full days of parent-teacher conferences and teacher meetings/training in their “instruction” hours.

There’s some question on how accurately schools report their hours of instruction to the state through the EMIS data system. One local district told the Dayton Daily News they were 400-500 hours over state minimums. After questions from the DDN, they realized those were teacher hours rather than student hours.

Another district initially said it scheduled 1001.75 hours at its high school — only 45 minutes to spare for the full year — before correcting it after DDN questions.

Local highs and lows

Among the 25 schools that responded to our survey, Springboro, Cedarville and Miamisburg cited the highest number of elementary school instructional hours, while Mad River, Kettering and Yellow Springs had the fewest. The difference between Springboro and Mad River was a whopping 184 hours, or the equivalent of 30 six-hour school days.

At the high school level, Cedarville, Huber Heights and Lebanon listed the most hours, while Dayton Christian and Miamisburg had the fewest instructional hours. At 1018 hours, Miamisburg High School’s cushion over the state minimum is small enough that school officials said they would need to hold makeup days if they missed more than two days for bad weather.

The Ohio Department of Education said it could not provide broad statewide data for comparison.

Educational quality

State test data does not appear to indicate a correlation between more hours in the classroom and higher academic performance. Two of the local districts that reported the fewest hours of instruction are Waynesville, which is always among the highest scorers on state tests, and Mad River, which traditionally has scored below average.

School leaders focused on all the things teachers have to do in the time they have available.

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“The more time we spend working with children, the better off they will be academically, socially and emotionally,” said Springboro schools assistant superintendent of instruction Andrea Cook. “But we begin by building trusting relationships with our students, then we teach content. Content cannot adequately be conveyed without building trust and rapport.”

Piqua Superintendent Dwayne Thompson said educators have to be aware that different students may need very different amounts of time to successfully process the same material. That makes it difficult to keep a whole classroom up-to-speed, especially in a subject like math, where students must learn one concept so it can be the building block for the next concept.

How to use those hours

“The number of hours is of course important, but it’s how you use them that really counts,” said Matt Housh, director of curriculum and instruction for Huber Heights schools. “If students are disengaged and focused on rote learning, they will not retain the learning no matter how much time you give them.”

Housh said more than pure instructional time, things that make a big difference in education include having lessons that are relevant and based in the real world, as well as classroom culture that engages students.

Kettering has a longer high school day, in part to prepare students for an adult work day. But it also allows time for seven full academic periods, and Von Handorf said that’s key to engaging students — they can try electives ranging from engineering and music to marketing and creative writing as they try to figure out what they want to do in life.

Dayton Christian is on the lower side when it comes to instructional hours, but spokeswoman Julie Thompson said that’s about life balance.

“We want enough ‘student days’ to accomplish the goals we have for our students’ academic success while offering breaks around holidays that support our families’ faith and commitment to family,” she said.

Hours of instruction
ElemRkHSRk
Springboro1144111449
Cedarville1124211811
Miamisburg11043101825
Carlisle11004110015
Valley View10995109916
Troy1094611704
Franklin10947113810T
Centerville10928109218
Lebanon1086911743
Preble Shawnee10831011646
Bradford108111108120
Northmont10681211577
Newton106113107921
New Lebanon105614111413
Dayton Christian105315105324
Brookville105216109717
Milton-Union105017113810T
Huber Heights104418T11762
Vandalia-Butler104418T113112
Piqua103820108819
Waynesville103721106622T
Yellow Springs102022110514
Kettering9922311665
Mad River96024106622T
Alter HSNA 11508

This chart shows scheduled hours of instruction reported by local schools for 2021-22. When a district’s hours varied by grade level, the number here may be an average or the number used by a majority of grades. These numbers may shrink when schools close for weather or other reasons.