DARRELL HUCKABY: Shortening school year short changes students

“School days, school days, dear old golden rule, days.”

Things have really changed in education since I first entered a classroom in 1958. To my parents, being in school was the most important task I would have for the next 12 years — or 16 years — or 55 years. Being in school was my job and if Tommie and Homer Huckaby passed anything along to their second child it was their work ethic.

They sent me to school with the expectation that I would mind my teacher and do my best work, in that order. I tried really hard to pass that legacy on to my own children. I think I was pretty successful.

There was one thing teachers knew about the Huckaby children. They would be in school and if they were not in school— well, they weren’t staying home for light or transient reasons.

Being in school and time on task doesn’t seem to be nearly as important to a lot of people these days — not parents, not kids, and not the people who run education in the state of Georgia.

For a long, long time there was minimum number of hours, prescribed by law, that students had to spend in classroom instruction each day in the state of Georgia. It’s called seat time. And for years and years and years, it was prescribed by law, that Georgia students spend 180 days in the classroom.

That was supposed to be a minimum, understand.

A couple of years or so ago, after the economy continued to go south despite the country having elected the person who was to be everything to everybody, the state of Georgia couldn’t find it in their economic power to fully fund schools. All of a sudden, seat time didn’t seem nearly as important to Georgia salons as keeping taxes low and getting re-elected. All of a sudden it was anything goes in regards to keeping schools open.

Put as many kids in a room with a hapless and undermanned teacher as you want to and it will be fine. Desperate times call for desperate measures, don’t you know? Besides, when we add in our special ed class numbers it will reduce the student-teacher ratio for the school and John Q. Public will never know the difference.

School days, schmool days. Can’t afford to pay the teachers for 180 days? Just go to school for 170 if you want to — or 160. Hell, it’s just school. You want to add a few minutes onto each class period and go 140 days? More power to you. Just make the math work out.

And we still wonder why Johnny can’t read and Suzy can’t do math.

Now we have been hit by a winter catastrophe in Georgia. We had a real cold morning and two severe winter storms and systems all over the state are wondering when and how to make up the days — or worse, if they will make up the days.

Let’s look at the “when” first. Back in the day, before Al Gore decided that global warming would make them obsolete, we had built in make-up days. It was understood that those would be the first days used to make up days missed because of inclement weather. Other days, if needed, would be taken from spring break or added to the end of the year.

Now, of course, administrators fear incurring the wrath of the 20 percent of parents who have made travel plans for spring break and there is no need to tack days onto the end of the year because all attempts at education end as soon as the All Holy standardized tests are given.

Don’t bother disputing that statement. I have lived it too long. I know.

Some systems are floating a plan whereby they don’t make up the days at all but add a few minutes to each class period and extend the school day until the end of the term. It works on paper, and if passing the seat time test is your only concern, sure — you’ll get your minutes in. If educating children is what you are looking to do, forget it. Class periods are already too long, especially for this attention span-afflicted generation. Add five or seven minutes to a class period and most teachers will simply hand out the busy work five or seven minutes early.

Teaching bell to bell is a myth in 90 percent of classrooms.

But, not to worry. The state School Superintendent, John Barge, who wants to be your governor, has declared that school systems don’t have to make up the days at all. Making sure his aspirations are covered, he is quick to add that they may if they so choose — but they don’t have to. That’s the way to pass the old buck.

My friends in education who look forward to every day away from cramming for end-of-year tests they can get remind me that it is easy to call for making up days now that I am retired, but I also fought for my time in front of my students.

Somewhere along the way the state of Georgia is going to have to decide that having students in school, in front of their teachers, is the only way to improve education. I just don’t think that day will occur between now and the end of May.

If you think educating our children is expensive and inconvenient, just wait a few years until we find out how expensive and inconvenient not educating them turns out to be.