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SBE finally makes up mind on passing time

Thursday update: The State Board of Education Thursday unanimously approved a rule that allows school districts to count passing time between classes as part of overall instructional time. Some 50 Colorado school districts do count passing time, but state law and regulations were silent on whether that actually was allowed. That ambiguity had bothered some SBE members, and some wanted to bar use of passing time. But, doing that would have provoked strong complaints from some school districts.

Board members discussed the issue at length the day before; read the following Wednesday story for more detail on their thoughts and on the issue.

Original story

Does passing time between classes count as education?

If those two words bring to mind images of yelling teens and slamming lockers, you probably don’t think so.

But if you think passing time allows for valuable if brief conversations between individual teachers and students, or creates opportunities for young people to practice good citizenship in crowds, then you see educational value.

The State Board of Education will vote Thursday on whether to create an explicit policy on how to account for school passing time in state requirements for the length of the school year.

The board heard testimony and talked about the issue for 45 minutes Wednesday afternoon, reviving a discussion that it’s held off and on for two and a half years. Several school districts don’t want the board to ban counting of passing time.

Everyone agreed that the issue isn’t a major one. But board chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, said he’d like to get it resolved one way or the other. Schaffer’s the one who’s pushed the question with the board. “This is a topic that has been looming,” he said. “The idea was to stimulate discussion. … It does highlight the bigger issue of the state continuing to use seat time as a measure of accountability.”

State law requires a minimum of 1,090 hours of “planned teacher-pupil instruction and teacher-pupil contact” a year in high and middle schools, 990 hours for elementary school, 450 hours in half-day kindergarten, 900 hours for full day kindergarten and 360 hours for Colorado Preschool Program.

State law gives school districts some leeway to include parent-teacher conferences and staff training in those totals and also makes allowances for events like snow days. The law does bar districts from counting lunch periods in those totals but is silent on passing time, when students move between classes (primarily in middle and high school).

Some 50 districts do count passing time, which can amount to 25-30 minutes a day, against their school year totals, according to the Department of Education.

“It’s just sloppy, really … some districts just do it and other districts don’t,” Schaffer said.

The board Thursday will have two proposals to choose from: One would exclude passing time and the other explicitly would allow its use, starting in the 2010-11 school year.

Officials from the Academy 20 and Cheyenne Mountain school districts, as well as a representative of the Colorado Association of School Executives, testified Wednesday against restricting the use of passing time. A lobbyist for the Colorado Children’s Campaign urged that passing time not be included in total school time.

Representatives of 17 districts responded in writing earlier, opposing any ban on passing time use.

Gerald Keefe, Kit Carson superintendent, wrote, “Where in the world are we going with this? … Leave this thing alone and let local communities decide what’s best. However, the board rarely leaves anything along and will undoubtedly create a mess when all is said and done.”

Opponents of any change are concerned about higher costs for such things as bus service and teacher salaries, since most district contracts are for specified numbers of teaching days. Districts believe they would have to extend school days or the school year.

Jefferson County estimated a policy change would cost it an extra $2 million a year; officials of Pueblo County estimated a cost of $1.1 million. Other larger districts objecting to any change were Adams 12 and Lewis Palmer.

Two school districts wrote to say they think passing time should be disallowed.

“A lot of what we’re talking about here is local versus state control,” said Bruce Caughey of CASE.

(Any change in passing time policy wouldn’t affect state support of individual districts, which is based on a different statistic – full-time student enrollment. That’s calculated at 360 hours a semester, or about four hours a day.)

Some board members wondered if the board should act now on this relatively narrow issue, given that a legislative interim committee is studying broader issues of how school funding should be based and calculated.

It also was noted that recent state legislation and growing interest in standards-based education are creating a broader trend away from “seat time” and toward basing student promotion on proficiency in key skills.

“I frankly don’t care how they [school districts] are spending their time as long as they get results” in student achievement, said board member Randy DeHoff, R-6th District.

Language of proposed passing time rule changes

Tighten your belts

During the routine briefings that make up part of any state board work session, department financial staffers told the board that state school districts should expect cuts in state aid of least $200 million in the 2010-11 school year, based on preliminary analysis of proposals being developed by the governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting. OSPB Director Todd Saliman is scheduled to brief the legislative Joint Budget Committee on 2010-11 budget cuts next Tuesday.

Districts already are bracing for a $110 million cut in 2009-10 funding.

On tap Thursday

In addition to voting on passing time, the board is scheduled to consider and vote on recommendations from the Capital Construction Assistant Board for distribution of construction funding under the Build Excellent Schools Today program. The board also will vote on a resolution regarding Colorado’s participation in the national common standards process.

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