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.
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.
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.
“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
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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.