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Proposal to extend Ohio's school year under review

By JOHN SEEWER, Associated Press Writer

TOLEDO, Ohio, July 23, 2009 (AP): The governor's plan to add four weeks to Ohio's 180-day school year will get a closer look in the coming months and could produce radical changes in the school calendar for students and their families.

Ideas being tossed out may allow individual districts to start and end school at different times or even experiment with year-round school.

Also being discussed is whether high-achieving schools can decide they don't need extra classroom time, a policy that could lead to students in successful districts having fewer school days than students in struggling districts.

While it's possible that none of these ideas will take hold, what's clear is that Gov. Ted Strickland's ambitious plan to overhaul public schools has education leaders thinking more about changing how children and teachers spend their time in and out of class.

Ohio lawmakers decided against including Strickland's proposal for 20 more school days over the next 10 years in the new state budget that was finalized last week. Instead, they opted for more time to review the idea and the creation of statewide advisory council to examine the issue.

One change that was approved for the school year starting in 2010: Schools will get just three calamity days in which class can be canceled for bad weather, instead of five.

``This is the beginning of slowly transitioning into a longer school year,'' said Scott Blake, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.

During the next year, education leaders will look at whether the state can pay to keep schools open longer and how an extended school year will affect students and teachers.

``Money is no doubt the issue,'' said Brian Williams, chair of the Ohio House's education committee.

The Ohio Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, has made it clear that it won't back a longer school year without more pay for teachers.

Adding more time for school, though, doesn't mean all of that will be spent in classrooms, said Williams, a Democrat from Akron who is a former teacher and school superintendent.

It could mean the time is used on internships, job shadowing, community service or trips to science museums or historical sites.

``We're not going to do more of the same,'' he said.

Some districts, he said, need these reforms more than others while successful schools might not need an extra 10 days. ``Some schools that are doing well could have more flexibility,'' Williams said.

Sue Taylor, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, said that allowing schools to make decisions about extending the school year is ``probably the only way it's going to be successful.''

What also must be answered is how a longer school year will affect teachers who often take college classes during the summer that are required for renewing their teaching license. ``If changes are made, we must do advanced planning,'' she said.






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