The Washington State Board of Education is making it harder for schools to shorten their school years.
At the regular meeting this month, board members voted 6 to 5 to reject school day “waiver” applications for six Washington school districts – including Seattle.
The board has the power to waive a district’s legal requirement to provide students with 180 days of instruction each school year.
The denial of so many applications is rare, according to a KING 5 Investigation that found only three applications denied in the last five years.
The investigation also revealed districts have been using the waivers in increasing numbers. Since 2007, the number of waivers granted has grown 400% to an all time high. This year, nearly half of all districts in the state have waivers that typically range from 3 to 5 days.
“The waiver days are used for professional development,” said Shauna Heath, the Seattle School District’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction.
Seattle was one of the six districts whose waiver application was not approved. Seattle sought a three day waiver for parent teacher conferences, which do not count toward the 180 day requirement, and three additional days for what is known as “professional development.”
Heath says the teachers use the professional development days, when students are not at school, to improve the quality of their instruction.
“There are always new and innovative techniques to hone anybody’s craft. If you’re a physician you’re getting on-going training as you go along. It’s the same with teachers,” said Heath.
Health says the district shouldn’t have any problem getting the three days for parent/teacher conferences. However, the State Board of Education wants more data proving that the professional development time will improve student’s grades.
In November, the State board responded to concerns about the reduction in class time by waiver days and partial school days – which are also used to give teachers professional development time. The board tightened up the rules for granting waivers, including provisions requiring schools to show measureable gains from their wavier days.
Seattle is re-submitting its waiver application and hopes to have it approved by July.
For the time being, waivers are one of several issues holding up putting the finishing touches on next year’s Seattle School calendar.
“We have a start and a potential end time and that’s kind of where we’re at right now until we find out whether or not these days need to be built into the calendar,” said Heath.
If the waiver days aren’t approved, Seattle might have to pay teachers more money to receive professional development outside of regular hours or provide it with early release days – after kids go home.