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Time to Learn: Instruction Time Counts

Students deserve equal and adequate class time

Kids need to be in school, engaged in high-quality teaching and learning, as much as possible. In Eugene School District 4J, we’ve made strong strides toward achieving that goal by returning to a full school year with no furlough days.

Other critical changes are still needed. 4J schools have individual site-based schedules and calendars, and a close analysis has shown both that some schools provide too little learning time for students, and that there are big differences in the amount of time students are in class depending on which school they attend.

That’s not fair to our students and teachers, not best serving our community, and not acceptable to the district—a student’s neighborhood should not determine the extent of their education. We’re actively working to fix it. Our intent is to ensure that all 4J schools provide the quantity and quality of education that our community values and supports.

Several issues need to be addressed, and that work is underway: 

Ensuring educational equity

There are sharp differences between schools in the amount of time each student is in class learning, and each teacher is teaching students. Under current schedules, a student who attends the 4J elementary, middle and high schools offering the least amount of instruction time would receive 7 months—nearly a full school year—less schooling by graduation than a student attending the 4J schools with the most instruction time.

The district is negotiating with the teachers’ union to address these inequities and provide equal and sufficient teaching and learning time for all students and teachers. 

Creating a consistent calendar 

One evident solution is to move to a standard districtwide calendar—one calendar and schedule for all schools at each level, aligned across levels. Having a standard calendar would:
• provide equitable amounts of instruction time for students and teachers,
• allow coordinated opportunities for professional development, and
• create clear and consistent schedules for families,
• while still providing for teachers’ voice in site-based decisions about teaching and learning within the school day and week.

Any new calendar would be developed with input from staff, families and the community to replace the site-based early-release, late-start, and full-release days that currently are different at each school. The district is discussing this with the teachers’ association as an important issue in contract bargaining. 

Setting the standard 

What counts as instruction time? Oregon law allows a limited amount of certain activities that support learning but aren’t actual classroom learning time—recess, parent conferences and teacher professional development—to be counted toward instruction time. The appropriate level of credit, if any, is up to each school board and its community to decide. The 4J school board has approved a one-year plan applying about half of the allowed credits, as a short-term measure to allow schools to plan for the coming school year while a longer-term fix is resolved. 

Meeting more than the minimum 

All schools must provide at least the state-required amount of instruction time. We’re working to make sure that happens. Some current schedules at 4J elementary and high schools would fall short even if all of the credits allowable under state law were applied. Schools are adjusting their schedules to ensure they meet or exceed the requirements with the temporary credits the school board has approved for next year, while the district works toward a longer-term solution.

The bottom line 

Meeting the letter of the law is one thing. Meeting the spirit of the law and doing what’s right for students is another. The district is having important conversations about what our 4J students deserve, what expectations for teachers should be, and how to provide equitable teaching and learning time for students and teachers, no matter where they live, learn and work.

What do you think?

The district welcomes community feedback about this important issue. Public comment is invited at every school board meeting (see schedule at tinyurl.com/4Jboardbook) and the school board and superintendent receive emails sent to board@4j.lane.edu.

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