WHEELING - Local school districts in Ohio are experiencing changes in educational standards and the increasing use of technology in order to meet the demands of the world's evolving workforce.
Superintendent of Bellaire Local School District Tony Scott said Ohio's approach to education is rapidly changing as schools wrestle with implementing the new Common Core State Standards, a program currently adopted by 38 states that aligns school curriculum to national standards in math and reading. He said introducing the new curriculum requires gearing classes toward the new standards as well as training educators for their new professional requirements.
"There is so much more happening in Ohio (education) now than I've ever seen," Scott said. "Things are coming down regarding the changes including everything from new testing, the new funding formula, how we're going to evaluate teachers. It's really on the fast track right now and there's a lot of work to be done to prepare for the future."
Students exit Union Local High School at the end of classes last week. Proposed legislation in Ohio could lead to changes in the length of school days and school years.
Scott said that many of the changes that come with the Common Core curriculum have been in the works for years, but recently have been coming to a head as educators get ready to implement the changes.
Superintendent of Buckeye Local School District Mark Miller said the introduction of technology in schools is one of the largest changes in education he has seen in the past five years.
He said today's children have grown up in the digital age surrounded by computers and cellphones, and schools are changing to connect with this new type of student.
"The days of chalk and pencil are over," Miller said. "We have to be able to reach students. If you look at the 21st century learner, they text, listen to the radio and do their homework all at the same time.
You're not going to see a lot of jobs in steel mills anymore, a lot of jobs will involve computers, so we have to prepare students for these jobs in the future."
Miller said Buckeye Local has made a sizable investment in technology in the district and now use smartboards, laptops and mobile devices regularly in the classroom. The schools also use a program called "BYOT" - or "Bring Your Own Technology" - where students can bring in their mobile devices and use the school's Internet connection to do research while in class.
Miller said "BYOT" solves the problem of not having enough computers for every student in a class.
"We also post a lot of lessons online," Miller said. "You can get entire textbooks online, you don't really have to bring your textbook home now."
At the state level, Ohio House Bill 32 would allow schools to change the way they design their yearly calendars by requiring districts to ensure students are in class for a certain number of hours rather than for the current 182 days.
The bill states schools "shall be open for instruction with pupils in attendance, including scheduled classes, supervised activities, and approved education options but excluding lunch and breakfast periods and extracurricular activities" for 455 hours each year for half-day kindergarten programs; 910 hours annually for full-day kindergarten and grades one through six; and 1,001 hours a year for grades seven through 12.
The bill notes that secondary students' school days would be at least five hours long, with a few exceptions. Primary students also would have five-hour minimum days with two recess periods.
A district that opts to retain a 182-day calendar would need to have older students in class for five and a half hours daily to meet the 1,001-hour requirement. Increasing the length of day to six hours would see students complete 1,001 hours in less than 167 full days.
Union Local Superintendent Kirk Glasgow pointed out that Union Local's school days already are longer than required by the state.
He believes that extra time in the classroom could help his district cover calamity days - currently limited to five days each year that do not have to be made up - without having to add days to the school year.
"We'd be in very good shape," Glasgow said. "It could allow for more professional development and give us more flexibility in planning."
Larry Elliott, superintendent of the Switzerland of Ohio Local School District, agrees that defining a school year in terms of hours rather than days could help districts make up time missed due to snowy weather or other emergencies, but he has other concerns about the proposal.
Citing the short attention spans of very young children, Elliott said he believes extending the length of school days could be less effective than spending more days in the classroom. He said this is especially true for the primary grades, where the fatigue and stress of a longer day could take a toll on a child's capacity to absorb and retain information.
Switzerland of Ohio is the state's largest school district in terms of geography, drawing students from all of Monroe County and parts of Belmont and Noble counties. Its 546 square miles of territory create transportation challenges that mean its various schools do not operate on exactly the same daily schedules. As a result, he said, schools in the system do not routinely exceed the required length of day as Union Local's schools that occupy a single, centrally located campus do. So, Switzerland would not see the same benefits from a school year structured according to hours rather than days.
Tom Ash, director of governmental relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, said HB 32 is designed to enhance local control of education. While districts would be required to meet the mandated numbers of classroom hours, they would not be forced to make changes to their calendars, which should already meet the hourly requirements. Instead, he said the legislation would allow districts to adapt to their own unique circumstances.
HB 32 was introduced Feb. 5 and has not yet faced a vote in the House or Senate. It is similar to HB 191, introduced in November, which did not come to a vote in 2012.
Teachers' unions likely would need to address the provisions of HB 32 in their collective bargaining agreements if it would become law. The Ohio Education Association - the state-level union - has not announced its position regarding HB 32, but it opposed HB 191.