Friday, June 26, 2015

"Seat Time" at Issue in Colorado School Funding

School funding is always an issue, and who gets how much money can be impacted in convoluted and arbitrary ways. One of the challenges for schools is the dreaded "October count" where schools must prove full time attendance in order to receive state and federal funding based on the number of kids in seats. A more convoluted issue is the question of "Seat Time," or the number of minutes/hours those kids are "in class." And, just how much time is necessary to be considered adequate? How long must the school day and week and year be? How long should a "class" session be?  Is a 47 minute class less effective than a 51 or 55 or 59-minute session?  I certainly have my criticisms of seat time and the Carnegie unit, and I've expressed them before. These ideas simply promote a misguided standardization and uniformity in public education. Seat time requirements are arbirtary and ineffective.

Now, the issue has reared its head in Colorado, as the Colorado Department of Education has ordered the Douglas County School District to pay back $4 million in state funding after an audit revealed that a certain number of students had not met the necessary requirements to be considered "full time students." Thus, the district can't claim full funding. The DougCo School Board fought back this week, arguing these "seat time" requirements are ineffective, and that in many cases, students missed the required time "by seconds." And that's just crazy.

The district contends the students should be considered full-time. Some fell just a few seconds short a day and some graduated with honors, it said. "Our District completely rejects the Department's position as arbitrary, capricious and not the result of reasoned agency decision-making," school board president Kevin Larsen and vice president Doug Benevento wrote. "We intend to pursue our remedies in the Colorado courts with all deliberate speed." Noting that Dougco is often at odds with the department, they wrote, the department's actions "convey the unmistakable whiff of policy retaliation." Citing budget challenges, Douglas County moved from seven to eight periods in its high schools, leading to slightly shorter periods.

Now, I don't agree with DougCo Schools and the DougCo School Board on a great many things. And the information that they shortened the day and class periods because of budget issues can be troubling. The DougCo area is one of the wealthiest in the country, and they are pinching pennies and burdening teachers in an almost intentional way of harming public education. Yet, they are correct in that seat time requirements are arbitrary. And if, as they claim, some of these classes missed legal requirements by seconds, and the students are succeeding anyway in shorter classes, then CDE needs to back off.

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