State Departments of Education Should Explain Legal Basis for Mandates on Schools

A bill in the Iowa Senate would require the Iowa Department of Education to identify their statutory or regulatory authority for any request for reports made of school districts. Photo Credit: Ashton B. Crew (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Iowa State Senator Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton), chair of the Iowa Senate Education Committee, told me in an email, “I’ve had several superintendents and principals asking me why they are completing so many reports, especially after we passed school district home rule last year.”

The home rule act, HF 573, passed the Iowa House and Senate last session and was signed into law by former Governor Terry Branstad. It simply reads:

The board of directors of a school district shall operate, control, and supervise all public schools located within its district boundaries and may exercise any broad and implied power, not inconsistent with the laws of the general assembly and administrative rules adopted by state agencies pursuant thereto, related to the operation, control, and supervision of those public schools.

The new law really isn’t a boon for local control, in my opinion, because there is still so much the state dictates to local school districts. This does mean, however, that the Iowa Department of Education can’t keep piling on mandated reports, etc. without specific law or an administrative rule giving them that authority. Which, apparently, they are still doing.

So the question that State Senator Sinclair kept getting from school administrators is eye-opening.

So she offered a bill. ” I figured requiring the DE to cite the legal authority for gathering the information wasn’t too much to ask. And if there is no legal authority, then maybe they won’t require the report,” she told me in an email.

They may still try to require it, but without specific authority, a school could politely ignore the request.

The bill she offered is SSB 3001. It requires the director of the department of education to cite the state or federal statute, rule, or regulation necessitating the inclusion of information in any report which the department requires a school district, area education agency, and accredited nonpublic school, or the officers or employees of such entities to submit.

The bill that was introduced by Sinclair in the Senate Education Committee was assigned to a subcommittee consisting of State Senators Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa), Jeff Elder (R-State Center), and Robert Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids).

I think it’s safe to say this bill should pass, and frankly, it is common sense. State Departments of Education should have to cite the law or regulation whether state or federal that gives them the authority to require anything from a local school district.

2017 Will Bring More Opportunity to Repeal Common Core in Iowa

It looks like there will finally be some opportunities in Iowa to pass legislation that will roll back Common Core and Smarter Balanced in my home state. Three events have taken place that are promising.

1. Republicans win the Iowa Senate and now control the Legislature.

We’ve had a split legislature that for the most part guaranteed status quo. That will not be the case for the next two sessions at least. Republicans not only won the Iowa Senate, but they won big flipping the Senate to a 29 to 19 majority (there will be a special election at the end of the month to replace State Senator Joe Seng who passed away). Not only that, but Iowa House Republicans expanded their majority in the House by two seats and have a 59 to 41 majority.

So while that doesn’t guarantee positive action it, at the very least, makes it a possibility.

2. Anti-Common Core legislators now chair the legislative education committees.

This is huge news because before any good bill was pretty much guaranteed to be assigned to a subcommittee to die. That should change in 2017.

State Representative Walt Rogers (R-Cedar Falls), who was a co-sponsor on all of the anti-Common Core legislation in the past, is now the chair of the Iowa House Education Committee. Complementing him State Senator Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton) will chair the Iowa Senate Education Committee. Sinclair also was involved in the anti-Common Core and Smarter Balanced legislation in the Senate.

This is an exciting development.

3. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has been appointed U.S. Ambassador to China.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who is pro-Common Core, has been appointed U.S. Ambassador to China by President-elect Donald Trump. He is likely to be confirmed. Branstad has been a significant roadblock to legislation addressing Common Core, the Next Generation Science Standards and Smarter Balanced. In fact the only related bill to make it to his desk, a delay to Smarter Balanced that was included in an appropriations bill, he line-item vetoed.

Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds who will be his successor when he resigns has not taken a public stand for or against Common Core, the Next Generation Science Standards, or Smarter Balanced.

On education policy there is certainly some uncertainty, but she has the chance to make her mark and differentiate herself from Branstad. There is promise she will be a more conservative governor than Branstad was. Let’s hope that includes education policy.

The timeline for Branstad’s departure is uncertain. He has said he will wait to resign his seat until he confirmed so we could be well into the new legislative session before that happens. If that is the case the 2018 legislative session may provide a greater opportunity than 2017.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad Owns Common Core

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad speaks to the Iowa Federation of College Republicans. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-2.0)

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad speaks to the Iowa Federation of College Republicans.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-2.0)

Don’t let Iowa Governor Terry Branstad tell you any different, he owns the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. He owns the large price tag for a new assessment, Smarter Balanced, that will be implemented in Iowa schools in Spring of 2018.

Sure Branstad wasn’t Governor when Common Core was first brought into the state, but he has been instrumental in seeing these standards stay entrenched in the state. He also opened up the way for the State Board of Education to foist the Next Generation Science Standards on Iowa schools.

Branstad pretended to hear the grassroots activists who met with him pleading that he take action to pull Iowa out of the Common Core State Standards initiative. In 2013 he signed an executive order that ordered a review of Iowa’s standards. It said in part that the “Iowa Department of Education shall develop a regular review cycle for the Iowa Core, including public comment, to determine the contents of and to continually improve state academic standards.”

Nine months later nothing had been done to start a review of the Common Core State Standards, but in 2013 a review process of the science standards was underway.

The science standards! Not the math or the ELA standards that everyone was complaining about. The “review” of the standards was nothing but a way to railroad the Next Generation Science Standards through – a set of standards that even some Common Core advocates though were awful.

The Iowa State Board of Education adopted the standards gleefully.

This was under Branstad’s watch and nary a peep out of the Governor.

We have seen our Common Core legislation stall, never making it out of subcommittee, and opposed by lobbyists with the Iowa Department of Education. The Iowa Legislature did put Smarter Balanced on hold in 2013 by implementing an assessment task force which, of course, was given to the Iowa Department of Education to lead.

Branstad then pulled Iowa out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (it must be noted that Branstad’s executive orders on Common Core happened leading up to his reelection bid). An assessment task force was underway to determine a new assessment for Iowa schools.

The task force naturally decided on Smarter Balanced which, like the Next Generation Science Standards, was a foregone conclusion. The Iowa State Board of Education endorsed the decision, and then later decided they had the authority to mandate it.

The Joint Administrative Rules Committee made up of legislators from the Iowa House and Iowa Senate disagreed and unanimously voted for a session delay in December of 2015. The legislature then voted to delay and review the administrative rule for the Smarter Balanced Assessments prior to the next legislative session. This was a bipartisan action, and Branstad, in a betrayal to Iowa parents, vetoed that language in the education appropriations bill.

He wrote in his veto message:

These items unduly delay Iowa’s transition to a new statewide academic assessment system. The Iowa Department of Education can best serve students by moving forward immediately to prepare for the implementation of the new assessment system on July 1, 2017. School administrators and teachers are eager for a new assessment system that is closely aligned with Iowa’s high state academic standards. By providing better information about students’ academic progress, the new assessment system will improve instruction. A well-aligned assessment is a key step toward providing a globally competitive education.

Common Core, which this assessment will keep entrenched in our state, so far has widened the achievement gap for Iowa students. Scores have been stagnant. Teachers in a survey given by Professional Educators of Iowa showed opposition to the Common Core, as well as, other education reform measures being taken by the Branstad Administration.

But hey, we’ve got to give the educrats what they’re asking for! We know Branstad serves their interests, not the interests of Iowa parents and taxpayers.

Branstad very much deserves a place on our Governor’s Wall of Shame and we can only hope this professional politician will not have the hubris to seek a seventh term.

Common Core Opposition Is Key Issue for Many Campaigns

polling-booth.jpgI wanted to draw your attention to an interesting article in The Washington Times.  Here is an excerpt:

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a Republican, cites opposition to Common Core as a key reason for her endorsement of state Rep. Chris McDaniel over incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran in Mississippi’s hotly contested Republican Senate primary. Former Oklahoma state House Speaker T.W. Shannon, a Republican, says Obama administration pressure on states to adopt Common Core “is a prime example of why I’m running for the Senate.”

Republican David Brat, the Virginia college professor who rocked the political world last week with his primary victory, went after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for not fighting hard enough to stop the Common Core reforms.

“I am absolutely opposed to Common Core and top-down education,” Mr. Brat told the conservative website Tavern Keepers days before the primary. “I’m a teacher. I’m in the classroom every day and the teachers, you have to trust your teachers.”

For Maryland Republican Charles “Bud” Nason, the fight to stop Common Core is the centerpiece of his race for a seat on the Carroll County Board of Education. Mr. Nason, one of eight candidates, has teamed up with two fellow challengers, Republicans George Harmening and Jim Roenick, as a bloc committed to rolling back Common Core in the county’s schools.

Read the rest.

Then you have a contested primary in Oklahoma for that state’s school chief.  I’ve heard Common Core mentioned by numerous candidates leading up to the primary in Iowa on June 3rd.  It was certainly an issue in the primary in our U.S. Senate race, as well as, Congressional races.  I’m not so sure how much of an impact the issue will make in the general election in those races.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s support of Common Core (regardless of what his campaign surrogates say and his executive order) has put a strain on his relationship with the base.  He easily won his primary (Common Core was an issue, but his challenger was steamrolled due to lack of name ID, money, etc.).  Branstad, who has an RCP poll average under 50%, could find his greatest threat, I believe, in the general election.  Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Lee Hieb who is making Common Core opposition a cornerstone of her campaign has potential of peeling away some of Branstad’s base (Iowa Republicans just approved an anti-Common Core plank at their state convention).  If that happens then the likely scenario is that his Democratic challenger State Senator Jack Hatch (D-Des Moines) could pull off an upset win which wouldn’t be a win for Common Core opposition either.

We may see more momentum in the down ballot races.

Like what we saw when twenty-one Common Core opponents won their school board races in Long Island.  Alabama State School Board elections saw Common Core advocates have to spend a lot of money and then “soften their message” and they still barely won.  There have been gains in some State Senate and State House primary races.

Needless to say this issue will be sticking around.

How are things looking with elections in your state?  Share in the comment section below.

Mississippi Governor Bryant Joins Other Governors In Issuing Meaningless Executive Order

Mississippi - Governor Phil Bryant poses a question to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack who was the guest speaker at the National Governors Association Education, Early Childhood and Workforce Committee in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant issued an executive order yesterday in an attempt to ease concerns that conservatives in Mississippi has about the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

Here is the nitty gritty of Executive Order 1333:

  1. The State of Mississippi and its local school districts, not the Federal Government or any other entity, shall determine the content of the academic standards and curricula for public schools in this State, with public input and comment in accordance with all applicable laws.
  2. The State of Mississippi, not the Federal Government or any other entity, shall select statewide assessments to measure student achievement under the State’s academic standards.  Local school districts may implement additional standards to measure student academic progress.
  3. The State of Mississippi is under no obligation to comply with any federal mandate that purports to require the State to maintain or utilize uniform national academic standards, curricula or assessments.  Nor, in the future, shall the State commit to maintain or utilize such standards, curricula, or assessments as a condition of federal funding or any other inducement.  Rather in accordance with applicable law, the State’s academic standards, curricula, and assessments shall be developed and adopted by the State and/or local school boards in the exercise of their own, independent judgment, which shall not be limited or compromised by any federal or other external conditions or requirements.
  4. All collection of student data by local school districts and by the State in connection with academic standards or assessments shall comply with all state and federal laws intended to protect student and family privacy.
  5. No constitutional right of Mississippi schoolchildren or their families shall be violated as a result of any mandate or condition imposed by the Federal Government on Mississippi’s public school system.
  6. Academic standards developed by the State Board of Education shall affect only K-12 public schools.  In accordance with applicable law, home schools and homeschooled children are not under the jurisdiction of the State Board or Department of Education and are not affected by the implementation of academic standards developed by the state.

On the surface this sounds good, some good red meat language in there for conservatives.  “We are going to tell the Federal government to buzz off!”  It seems to me that Governor Bryant borrowed language from Oklahoma Governor Fallin and Iowa Governor Branstad’s executive orders in crafting his own. 

The primary problem with this executive order is that it does NOTHING to change what was already done.  It gives the allusion that Mississippi developed their own standard which they did not in Math and English-Language Arts.  They may have added up to 15% to those standards, but Achieve, Inc. developed the standards not the state of Mississippi. 

The statement about data collection is pointless since FERPA has been gutted, at least Iowa Governor Branstad’s executive order specified that only aggregate-level data would be released.  It’s fine to say Mississippi’s homeschoolers won’t be impacted, but is he going to tell that to ACT and College Board when they align their college entrance exams in part because Mississippi joined with 44 other states in adopting the Common Core?

Also when Republican governors raise their fists to the Federal government I expect follow-through in the form of no longer applying for additional Federal money.  If they continue that practice they make themselves out to be liars.

A Good First Step in Iowa


Iowa Governor Terry Branstad is one of several Republican governors who has attempted to alleviate concerns about the Common Core State Standards through executive order.  Yesterday he signed executive order 83 which reads:

WHEREAS, the Iowa Constitution encourages a strong educational foundation by providing that, “[t]he General Assembly shall encourage, by all suitable means, the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement” (Iowa Const. art. IX, 2d, § 3); and

WHEREAS,rigorous state standards detailing expected academic achievement are essential to provide a high-quality education, which is key to students’ futures and the future of this state; and

WHEREAS, the adoption of state standards should be done in an open, transparent way that I ncludes opportunities for Iowans to review and offer input; and

WHEREAS,it is the responsibility of local school districts to make decisions related to curricula, instruction, and learning materials consistent with state academic standards; and

WHEREAS,it is inappropriate for the federal government to require as a condition of application of federal grants the adoption of any federally developed standards; and

WHEREAS,the protection of student and family privacy is paramount and Iowa must protect its citizens against intrusive, unnecessary data collection and tracking.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Terry E. Branstad, Governor of the State of Iowa, declare the following:

The State of Iowa, not the federal government or any other organization, shall determine the content of Iowa’s state academic standards, which are known as the Iowa Core. The Iowa Department of Education shall develop a regular review cycle for the Iowa Core, including public comment, to determine the contents of and to continually improve state academic standards.

The State of Iowa, not the federal government or any other organization, shall choose the statewide assessments that will measure how well students have mastered the Iowa Core. School districts may also choose to use additional assessments to measure student academic progress.

The collection of student data by school districts and the Iowa Department of Education shall be done in a manner consistent with state and federal laws intended to protect student and family privacy. Only aggregate student data shall be provided to the federal government to comply with federal laws.

No Constitutional right of Iowa children and their families shall be violated through an overreach by the federal government into Iowa’s educational system.



The strongest part of this executive order is its statement on student data.  I’m finding today that there is some confusion about what the executive order does.  The primary thing to know that while this is a positive step in the right direction it does not repeal the Common Core State Standards in Iowa.  I wrote today at Caffeinated Thoughts about what the executive order does and doesn’t do.  I encourage you to check it out.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Michelle Malkin is (Almost) Spot On

michelle_malkin_02Michelle Malkin has made the Common Core State Standards the subject of her syndicated column this week which has been published not only on her own website, but at places like and National Review

Her first article is the first in a series on the Common Core so perhaps she’ll get to it.  She explains her intent on her blog:

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to provide you in-depth coverage of this vital issue that too often gets shunted off the daily political/partisan agenda. While the GOP tries to solve its ills with better software and communications consultants, the conservative movement — and America — face much larger problems. It doesn’t start with the “low-information voter.” It starts with the no-knowledge student. This is the first in an ongoing series on “Common Core,” the stealthy federal takeover of school curriculum and standards across the country. As longtime readers know, my own experience with this ongoing sabotage of academic excellence dates back to my early reporting on the Clinton-era “Goals 2000″ and “outcome-based” education and extends to my recent parental experience with “Everyday Math”.

I’m looking forward to the series and on her blog she lists us a resource.  Thank you very much!  In her column she writes:

Under President Obama, these top-down mal-formers — empowered by Washington education bureaucrats and backed by misguided liberal philanthropists led by billionaire Bill Gates — are now presiding over a radical makeover of your children’s school curriculum. It’s being done in the name of federal “Common Core” standards that do anything but raise achievement standards.

Common Core was enabled by Obama’s federal stimulus law and his Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” gimmickry. The administration bribed cash-starved states into adopting unseen instructional standards as a condition of winning billions of dollars in grants. Even states that lost their bids for Race to the Top money were required to commit to a dumbed-down and amorphous curricular “alignment.”

She is right that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan helped put the wheels on the bus for this to get going, but they only primed the pump.  Republican Governors jumped at the carrot of the Race to the Top Trough money or a No Child Left Behind waiver.  You’ll notice in the map below there are a lot of traditional “red” states that jumped on board.


I would encourage her to call those Republican Governors and Chief State School Officers who have embraced the standards like Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, and Florida Governor Rick Scott out by name.  In fact, Governor Rick Scott brought the defeated former Indiana State Superintendent of Schools, Tony Bennett – who was ousted largely due to his support of the Common Core – to head the Florida Department of Education.  So Governor Scott is doubling down on the centralization and testing culture in Florida with a schools chief who supposedly believed in federalism until the Common Core came along.

And on and on… Malkin I’m sure will, but as a first article in a series this is fantastic and I’m thrilled to have her voice join ours.

Iowa Lawmaker: Iowa Department of Education Not Responsible for Success

iowa_deGovernor Terry Branstad gave his Condition of the State address where a lions share dealt with education.  This follows-up his unveiling of his education plan yesterday

State Representative Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig) had this to say regarding the piece on education:

Schultz said that he was completely supportive of his property tax reform ideas, but was less enthusiastic about his education agenda.  Schultz noted that two years ago the Republican-led Iowa House passed an education package that highlighted local control, home rule and independent accreditation for non-public schools.  He wants to see ideas like those highlighted.

“I don’t believe the Department of Education is responsible for any of the success in education, so I don’t see any reason to give them any more regulatory authority.  I’m looking forward to looking at Governor Branstad’s education reform package keeping that in mind,” Schultz said.

Schultz said that the primary thing that will help student achievement wasn’t discussed, “I’m looking at the breakdown of the family and a sound family environment where kids are fed, well dressed, and have help with their homework.  Government can’t fix that.  They can get out of the way. It is the students who do not have a support structure within the family who are bringing this discussion on and while it probably wouldn’t have been a good fit in the Condition of the State address I would like to see the Governor address it.”

Good question, if the Department isn’t responsible for any success in Iowa schools past or present, why are we granting them more authority?

Despite Top-Down Standards Iowa Trails in Student Achievement

A new study commissioned by the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance and EducationNext was recently released.  They compared student achievement internationally and among the states.  They studied the improvement trend in 41 states from 1992 to 2011 looking at four different U.S. tests specifically looking at performance in math, science and reading of students who at the time of testing were in 4th or 8th grade.

Internationally, the United States is barely keeping pace with the rest of the world.  Within the United States, Iowa is last in terms of student achievement showing the slowest rate of improvement.  The study also demonstrated that our increase in education dollars have done nothing to help increase test scores.  Iowa from 1992-2011 under three different administrations (technically four if you count Governor Branstad’s 5th term as a new administration) has seen little growth in student achievement even after an increased involvement by the state in education.

Local control has been diminished, centralization increased and student achievement in our state is no better off.  Even with increased spending, the introduction of the Iowa Core Curriculum along with other reforms kids are lagging behind.

Governor Branstad in his fifth term has shown the same proclivity to push centralized education and double-down on top-down standards so there is little evidence (as the Common Core State Standards have not been field tested – anywhere) that Iowa will improve its standing.

Perhaps it is time to change things up and see how we can lead the nation in education reform rather than mimic other states in adopting unproven standards.  Perhaps it is time to respect once again honor our longstanding tradition of local control which placed Iowa as a leader in education and decentralize and let parents and school boards come up with local solutions.  Perhaps it is time to empower parents in making educational decisions for their children with real choice instead of shoddy public school options.

The current course of action right now is more of the same and it is leading Iowa toward failure.  Increased decentralization and greater school choice would help buck the trend.

Originally posted at the From The Right Blog at The Des Moines Register.

Time, Time, Do They Really Need More Time?

clockIn preparation of a new school year which is fast approaching, and along with that comes new legislative sessions with gubernatorial education agendas I thought I’d address the issue of time.

Do public schools really need more time with our kids?  Should the state mandate that for local school districts (and by default public school parents)?  Worse yet should the federal government?

To answer I’d say no, no and no.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad would like more time.  It was being discussed last December.  There are options that a task force Governor Branstad is putting together will consider such as:

  • Extending the school year by at least 10 days.
  • Lengthening school days.
  • Requiring struggling students to attend Saturday or summer classes.

I had a friend email me meeting minutes from back in 2009 from an education roundtable with Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.  At that meeting Indiana Superintendent of Public Education Tony Bennett signing the praises of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said we should foist on local schools (my words) longer school days and longer school years.  He obviously likes Secretary Duncan’s love of national standards as well:

We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed for the time, when America was a nation of farmers, who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of the day. This calendar once made sense, but now it puts us at a competitive disadvantage. The challenges of the new century demand more time in the classroom. Secretary Duncan said he is for everything that kids hate. I am for those same things: longer school days, more days of the school week, and longer school years. We can’t find research that says that less is better for our children. We should adopt Secretary Duncan’s position, and to be for all that kids don’t want.

Except we can’t really can’t document that more is better for our kids.  Considering Iowa’s mandatory 5.5 hour school days (which most schools go beyond), I asked back in December and still ask today:

  • Does anyone really believe you are going to keep the attention of an early elementary student longer than 6.5 hours?
  • This would increase school budgets, and is that something taxpayers can really afford?
  • Regarding more instructional time, how much time in the classroom is really just spent on busy work?  From my personal interaction with public schools and from experience – a lot.
  • I know one of the arguments in favor is that often times parents are still at work when their kids are released from school, but what about those who aren’t?
  • What about students in rural school districts who already spend an insane amount of time on the school bus do we really want to lengthen their day?
  • Considering how much older students, on average, are involved in extracurricular activities do we really want to take more time away from families (not to mention the ungodly amount of homework they often have to do)?

The Eagle Forum back in 2009 when President Obama and Secretary Duncan started to advocate for more time for public instruction wrote that assumptions made by educrats about more time being better simply isn’t backed up by fact:

In fact, children in the Asian nations with outstanding performance on international math and science tests do not spend more hours in school than American children. American children spend 1,146 instructional hours per year in school, on average. Children in Singapore, usually the highest-performing nation in mathematics, spend just 903 instructional hours per year. Instructional hours in other top-performing nations are also lower than in the U.S.: 1,050 in Taiwan, 1,005 in Japan, and 1,013 in Hong Kong.

Children in Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong do show up for more school days than children in the U.S., although those days are shorter. American public schools in most states spend a minimum of 180 days in school, while the school year in the other three nations runs between 190 and 201 days.

The performance of students in nations outside of Asia also fails to demonstrate a simple correlation between time spent in school and learning. Italian children spend more time in school than American children, yet fare worse on math assessments. Finland, where students spend just 861 hours a year in school, placed first on one of the other international tests.

Some educrats, especially Republican ones, will point to charter schools, the Eagle Forum in that same article wrote:

Some American school districts and some charter schools have already experimented with lengthening the school day and year. The KIPP charter school network of 82 public charter schools observes a 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. school day, more than three hours longer than the average. These schools also require students’ attendance every other Saturday, and for three extra weeks during the summer. Advocates of the longer school day point out that KIPP students perform better than the averages for their school districts on standardized tests; but opponents add that the difference is actually quite small, and represents a surprisingly low yield from what amounts to more than a 50% increase in the hours students spend in school. It is also difficult to disentangle the results of the extra instructional hours from other factors at play in KIPP schools. Many charter schools with average school days and years also outperform other schools in their districts.

Regarding our “outdated calendar” we’ve kept this calendar way beyond our our agrarian roots.  So it is not merely a relic of that time.  They cite Peter Berger from an article that appeared in Education Week back in November of 2009.  In it he said something that strikes to the heart of the matter, “Giving children the summer away from school isn’t a waste of their time. Unless we’re saying that being home is a waste of their time.”

I believe most proponents of longer school days and years do believe that.  Instead of longer school days and years, Berger notes, a good practical step should be reducing truancy which is prominent in high poverty areas (which is where you’ll find most of our failing schools).  Solve that problem and you may find some other issues will clear up as well.  Leave decisions of having a longer school days and/or school years up to
parents and their elected school boards.

Update: Jason Glass, the Director of the Iowa Department of Education, contacted me to say I mischaracterized his position on a longer school day.  I had originally written that he was in favor of it, along with Governor Branstad, and have made a correction.  I apologize for my error.