OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma public school students need to spend more time at school, and those schools must do a better job of using the time they have, state education superintendent Sandy Garrett said Tuesday.

Garrett, delivering her annual “State of Education” address at the Superintendent’s Leadership Conference, said the Oklahoma school year should be increased to a minimum of 180 days. She also urged state lawmakers to add an hour to state’s 6-hour school day.

Currently, Oklahoma public schools are required to hold classed 175 days out of the year with a minimum, six-hour school day.

But schools in China, she said, operate nine-hour days for 10 months — a 200 day educational calendar — and “many countries around the world” require students to be in classes over 220 days.

“Japanese students are required to attend 240 days,” she said.

To compete, Garrett said Oklahoma must consider expanding the school year and “eliminating interruptions” in the classroom.

“There should be great urgency to act on this next logical step in Oklahoma’s education reform movement,” she said. “The average U.S. instructional calendar is 6.5 hours and 180 days. I submit to you that our state must move to an extended day of one additional hour and add at least five days to the instructional year.”

Citing a study by the Broad Foundation, Garrett said the correlation between time and student achievement “gets stronger” with more engaged time.

“The complicated relationship between learning and time indicates that improving the quality of time used for instruction is at least as important as adding to the quantity of time spent in school.”

But while she called an expanded school year, Garrett said public school districts should have flexibility to develop their new calendar.

“Some schools have used ‘block scheduling’ or implemented a ‘year-round’ school plan,” she said. “And since 1998, some Oklahoma school districts have received 21st Century federal grants to establish academic before and after summer programs.”

Schools could even use bus time as instruction time, she said.

“There are some districts which offer instruction as students ride the bus,” she said. “And another example of more time is the charter school model which features nine-hour days, Saturday classes and mandatory three-week summer school.”

Only two Oklahoma schools — one in Tulsa and the other in Oklahoma City — offer the nine-hour day.

Garrett said she would appoint a task force to make recommendations about how to increase the state’s school calendar.

She said Dr. Lucy Smith, the retired superintendent of McAlester’s public schools, would chair the committe. At a press conference following her speech, Garrett said she would appoint teachers, parents and union representatives to the task force.

Along with an increased calendar, Garrett called on state lawmakers to make pre-kindergarten though 12th grade education a greater priority.

“Economy-developing fields like biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics and astrophysics do not thrive in places were education is not truly the priority,” she said.

Garrett said the issue “was not the $14,000 per student they spend in New York” but getting Oklahoma schools to the national average of $8,700 per pupil.

At present the state spends about $6,613 per student which, she said, is “close to a $2,100 gap per pupil.”

“Utilities, textbooks, computers, buses, bricks and mortar cost about the same in Indianapolis, Omaha or Austin as they do in Oklahoma City.”

Saying the state was “in a race” to compete globally, Garrett said she wanted Oklahoma schools to thrive.

“Some say you can ‘survive or thrive,’” she said. “I opt for the latter. Our main concern is preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist, using technologies what haven’t been invented to solve problems which we can only speculate about today. We must now maximize the power of teaching children how to learn.”

The Superintendent’s Leadership Conference continues through Thursday.

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