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Extending school days is a terrible solution for Michigan schools

Jack Lessenberry

I have very few inflexible notions, but one of them is this: It is better to learn than be ignorant. Unlike many dogmas, this one passes the practical test. Those who are better educated generally make more money and have happier and more fulfilled lives.

There’ve been a lot of crises in education in recent years. Most have been about money. But this year, it’s weather. This brutal winter has meant many schools have been closed for more “snow days” than usual. Legally, schools are allowed to miss up to six days. After that, they have to make up the time, or lose some of their school aid money. None of them want that, of course.

So how do they make up the lost days? My guess is that any elementary school kid who has ever tackled a “story problem” could come up with the right answer: You add more days to the school year to make up for the ones that were missed.

Unfortunately, some of our politicians have it wrong: Most notably, State Rep. Phil Potvin, a Republican who runs a concrete company in Cadillac. Potvin has sponsored a bill that would allow districts to lengthen school days instead of adding new days.

That’s an idea, as one member of the state board of education told me, is “incredibly stupid.” Here’s why. All of us, but kids especially, have a limited attention span.

It’s been a long time since my own public school experience, but I can tell you this: My own education suffered because I was scheduled for Algebra II the last hour of the day.

Michigan’s entire state board of education agrees that trying to make up lost days with longer days is a stupid idea. They’ve issued a statement that says the board “strongly encourages school districts to replace additional lost days with full days of student instruction.” They added, “this is the better strategy to ensure that students will be ready for career, college and community” – not to mention a better strategy for Michigan’s future.

State Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan is even more emphatic. He notes that Michigan used to require kids to be in school at least 180 days a year. We’ve dropped that by 10 days. Meanwhile, some other nations are having their students spend 200 days or more in school – nations whose economies are eating our lunch.

That doesn’t seem important to Potvin, however. When asked about the state superintendent’s views by the Center for Michigan’s Bridge Magazine, Potvin said: “He hasn’t signed any checks lately for transportation,” apparently meaning the cost of school buses. In other words, for Potvin, it is all about the short-term bottom line.

Perhaps that may make sense in his concrete business. But we do know that shortchanging education will cost this state dearly.

Potvin did this last year, and, Gov. Rick Snyder, who should know better, signed a one-time bill allowing districts to add hours rather than days. Now, they want to make that permanent.

That’s a bad idea, if we want Michigan to be competitive.

If that doesn’t matter, well, we could help our short-term bottom line even more by not having school at all.     

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