School chiefs weigh in on Obama's call to extend year

By CHRIS KIEFFER / NEMS Daily Journal

After President Barack Obama called for a longer school year Monday, several Northeast Mississippi superintendents said they are concerned about the cost of increasing the number of days that students spend in the classroom.
But several superintendents also said it is something that must be considered if U.S. students are to keep pace with those from other nations.
“It would be beneficial because the literature continues to emphasize that the more time students have on task, the better they will perform,” said state Superintendent Tom Burnham.
“I think the bigger issue is that as a country, we will have to make a decision: Are our children going to be able to compete in a world economy? Clearly when you look at where we rank in terms of education and the performance of our students internationally, we are going to have to do some things radically differently.”
Asked in a live interview Monday on NBC’s “Today” show if he supported a year-round school year, Obama said: “The idea of a longer school year, I think, makes sense.” He did not specify how long that school year should be but said U.S. students attend classes, on average, about a month less than children in most other advanced countries.
Mississippi legislation sets the state’s school year at 180 days. That length could be changed only through legislation.
“I’m all for it as long as it is funded either by the state or federal government or a combination of the two,” Tupelo Superintendent Randy Shaver said. “I don’t want it to be an underfunded mandate, but I do believe it is very important that when you look at developed nations around the world, most of them spend at least 200 days in the classroom, and more hours per day than the U.S.
“If we’re truly going to compete, I think that is something we need to take a serious look at.”
Already dealing with severe state budget cuts, several superintendents were concerned about a proposal that would be even more expensive.
“I think it is hard to take any proposal seriously when we are cutting what we’re doing already,” New Albany Superintendent Charles Garrett said. “When people look at additional days, it is additional funding.
“Anything that spends more money right now is a little like wishing on a star. I think we need to really focus on what we’re doing now.”
Oxford Superintendent Kim Stasny said adding 20 days in her 3,500-student district would cost “several million dollars.”
Said Burnham: “That is probably not going to happen in this economy, but is is a conversation we need to be having.”
Added Amory Superintendent Gearl Loden: “If just tweaking the calendar slightly would make a big difference, it would be worth considering.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.