Unnecessary emphasis on instructional minutes hinders schools

January 22, 2020 — by Andy Chen

It’s safe to say that before the current school year began, most students had never heard the term instructional minutes. Half a year later, it’s now associated with frustrating policy changes such as tutorial sign-ins and extended finals schedules.

Under California’s education code, public high schools are required to meet 64,200 minutes of instructional time. These minutes are defined as either class time, breaks shorter than 10 minutes or “homerooms” in which students are under direct adult supervision at all times. 

As a result of this stringent definition regarding instructional minutes, the school has been forced to update policies that were already functional and effective. 

In the school’s effort to meet the instructional-minute threshold, students have been negatively impacted; as a consequence of both the last-minute lengthening of finals week and the tutorial attendance system, students and teachers alike have been inconvenienced for little gain in an effort to please a seemingly arbitrary state standard. 

Despite how frustrating this instructional-minute policy is for both students and staff, its implementation would be justified if it actually improved students’ education experiences.

The whole point of instructional minutes is to maximize the amount of time in which students are learning, but the loopholes that the school has had to take in addressing the issue don’t actually affect the amount of time students spend learning. For example, tutorial has been shortened by five minutes while the break after tutorial has been lengthened by five minutes to meet the California Department of Education’s (CDE) definition of instructional minutes; these changes have had no impact on students whatsoever.

If the CDE hopes to better students’ educations by emphasizing instructional minutes, then their restrictions are unnecessary for many schools. Saratoga High is ranked as the third best public high school in California, according to Niche.com, and the school’s graduation rate, mathematics proficiency and reading proficiency are astronomically superior compared to other high schools in the state; if a minimum number of instructional minutes is meant to help educational proficiency, then the CDE is better off focusing on other areas to accomplish this goal.

Of course, restrictions on the school are necessary to make sure that students are performing to their potential, but the CDE’s current solution only forces the school to jump unnecessary hurdles.

Instead of setting an arbitrary number of necessary instructional minutes, the CDE should make the number inversely proportional to how well the school performs. Some schools may need more than 64,200 minutes; others may need slightly less. Leave it to local school boards to decide what works for them and judge them by results such as graduation rates and test scores.

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