The Mandatory 180-day School Year

I rarely try to look at local issues as my blog has international readers, but this has to be addressed.  In my home state of Indiana, Dr. Tony Bennett Superintendent of Public Instruction has issues a mandatory 180-day school year.  On the surface this seems plausible assuring kids are in school 180 days, the more time in school the better . . . right?  Well the 180-day school year is now a target that must be hit by schools without any waivers for weather, and can’t take credit for parent-teacher conferences, and in-service teacher days.  The Indy Star (Indianapolis newspaper) and Indiana Chamber have come out in support of this plan.

This is not a Republican or Democrat issue.  This is an issue of command and control thinking where a random target is set in stone without regard for the system that it effects.  Targets always get you less.  As if there weren’t enough defacto purposes in our school system we now have a new one which has little to do with educating children.  Superintendents and principals are going to be trying to figure out how to get to 180 days instead of finding better ways to educate our children.  What might they do?  Well, we might put our children at risk by going ahead and having school on days that have treacherous driving . . . we have to hit that 180 days right?  No waiver.  Those pesky non-value-added parent/teacher conferences will have to go away.  Class preparation for teachers is obviously them just being lazy.  There are myriad other sub-optimal things that can happen from a random target set like this. 

For those concerned with more school days I have no argument, except why is 180 days the magical number over 179, or would 185 be better?  No one really knows the answer.  I support Dr. Bennett in having better education, but targets are not the way in the public or private sectors.  This is not a method for new public sector innovation this is old school command and control thinking bound to get us away from our purpose . . . to educate children.

A better way is systems thinking.  Start by studying the system and the interaction of student, teacher and parent.  Learn to leave the decision-making with the work and work on the system of better education as State Superintendent.

Dr. Bennett admits that he once had to used waivers because of snow days as a school superintendent.  He claims to wear a different hat now.  The hat he needs to wear is a systems thinking hat that understands the damage of targets and their corresponding carrots and sticks.  Senseless targets and government management mandates put better education at risk.

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