The House voted Tuesday to set a minimum number of hours students must be in class and tightened rules about what qualifies as teaching.

According to the Associated Press, the requirement that schools be in session for at least 180 days would be scrapped and replaced with a minimum number of hours.

For first through sixth grades, schools would have to offer 990 hours of instructional time. Older grades would be required to be in class for 1,080 hours.

That amounts to about 180 full days of school. Currently, schools frequently scheduled partial days for a variety of reasons, with those days counting toward to the 180-day requirement.

The bill heads to the Senate for approval.

“This is about the quality of time,” said Rep. Jodi Tymeson, R-Winterset, a main supporter of the plan.

Critics say it is a diversion from the real issues facing schools in the state.

“I don’t think it improves what we need to do,” said Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames. “By adding more hours ... we are doing nothing to improve the quality.”

Local school officials shared their reactions to the bills success so far.

“If that will have a positive impact on student achievement and the amount of time students spend in academic settings, I’m very supportive of it,” said Ottumwa Superintendent Tom Rubel

In fact, his board took action to increase time in school even before the House debated the bill this year.

“We lengthened the school day this past year by 15 minutes,” he said.

He agreed that “on the surface,” 15 minutes may not seem like much.

“[Multiplied] times 179 days, that is in excess of another week’s schooling,” he said about the nearly 45 hours that have been gained. “That 15 minutes does add up to a significant amount of time for teaching and learning.”

So does the state need to monitor the districts so closely?

“This whole idea going through The House now is accountability,” said Kevin Crall, superintendent of Albia schools. “I’m all for that, and providing a quality education,”

But, he said, a better way to do that might be for the state to fund additional training for teachers. It’s the difference between making a change and making an impact.

“Let them add staff development days,” he said.

Because switching from 180 days to 990 hours in the school year cost the state nothing, he said, but “looks good on paper.”

Each district needs to be able to make some decisions on there own, said Cardinal Superintendent Arnie Snook.

“The concept of local control is slowly eroding away on this,” Crall said.

Neither Snook or Crall was totally against solid direction at the state level. But Snook said there has to be a balance.

For example, statewide “standards and benchmarks” could be helpful to kids, schools and parents.

As an example, Snook said, because our society is so mobile, he likes the idea that a student coming to Cardinal from Sioux City would be able to step right into an Algebra One class.

But when it comes to logistics, “it’s a little different,” he said. He believes the local school boards are the ones who know what’s best.

For example, he said, at Ottumwa High School, it might take five minutes or more to get from one class to another. At Cardinal, it might take two or three minutes between every class. Whiting has just over 200 students in the whole district. To get from one class to another requires walking across the hall, he said.

Crall said the 990 hours of attendance won’t be a problem.

“We make a very concentrated effort here,” said Crall. “We meet those standards anyhow.”

Snook said the same.

But the bill, which now heads over to the Senate for approval, won’t make the superintendent’s job easier.

“What does bother me is it adds another facet in decision making,” he said.

For example, when bad weather hit Tuesday, he had to decide whether to start late; cancel school or keep normal hours. That’s already a tough call to make, he said.

“Now we’re going to be at the point where we’re counting hours,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Mark Newman can be reached at 683-5358 or by e-mail at


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