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School Daze: Getting students to spend more time in class might not be as easy as it sounds

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, in his first State of the State address, said: We know that more time in the classroom in the form of longer school days, a longer school year and after-school programs " also makes a difference."

It sounds logical, but is following through as easy as it sounds?

Absent a statewide teachers' contract like Hawaii has, asking teachers to work more hours would require each of the 732 school districts to renegotiate more expensive contracts with their educators, which may or may not be financially feasible to some districts that are already cash-strapped.

"While there have been known instances in the Western world of being able to negotiate things into a contract without having to pay for them, they are exceedingly rare," said Dave Ernst, a spokesman for the state School Boards Association. "And it is reasonable to expect the individual bargaining units, if you ask them to work longer hours or ask them to work more days, to come back and request additional funds. It is the additional funds that is the difficult part."

As it stands now, districts can hold classes for as many days as they want in any given school year, but they will only get state aid -- the lifeblood of many districts -- for a maximum of 181 days a year.

Districts can also say how long to keep children in school per day. A survey by the School Boards Association last year found the average time a high school teacher was in school is seven hours and seven minutes. Their days ranged in length from five hours and 30 minutes to eight hours, according to the survey. According to the National Education Association, teachers work an average of 50 hours a week when out-of-classroom work is considered.

New York State United Teachers President Richard C. Iannuzzi said he is open to the possibility of lengthening the school day and/or year, but said quality time is more important than the quantity of time students spend in school.

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