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Mississippi requires 180 days of instruction each year.
Mississippi requires 180 days of instruction each year. Credit: Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

Mississippi is in line with the majority of states in requiring at least 180 days of instruction time each school year. But Mississippi, along with 16 states and the District of Columbia, departs from that majority-rule norm in one respect: It does not differentiate instructional time requirements based on grade levels, according to a new report.

The report by the Education Commission of the States compared the amount of time kids are required to be in school from kindergarten through 12th grade in each state to see how states vary.

The District of Columbia and twenty-nine states, including Mississippi, require at least 180 days of instruction each year. Kansas and North Carolina require even more: Students in grades K-11 in Kansas are required to receive instruction for 186 days, while those in North Carolina must receive either 185 days or 1,025 hours of instruction per year. Kids in Colorado have a short school year, the state requires only 160 days of instructional time. Minnesota requires only 165.

A majority of states — 35 in all — vary the minimum daily instructional hours by grade level; the minority, Mississippi among them, fail to do so. Georgia, for example, has different requirements for grades K-3, 4-5, and 6-12. Indiana requires an extra hour of instruction each day for grades 7-12, and Vermont varies the time requirements from 2 hours per day for kindergarten students to 5.5 hours per day for grades 3-12. Mississippi requires 5.5 hours per day across all grade levels.

Jennifer Davis, co-founder of the National Center on Time & Learning said she is not aware of any research on potential benefits of differentiating instructional time requirements by grade, but said the practice may be meant to allow older students to tackle more content. “At the high school level there are obviously more subjects to cover than at the elementary grades,” Davis said in an e-mail.

In the past few legislative sessions, several bills aimed at changing the requirements for instructional time or setting more specific requirements have been introduced. During the 2018 legislative session, House Bill No. 540 proposed using hours rather than days to set instructional time requirements to “provide greater flexibility.” That bill was also proposed in 2017. In 2016, House Bill 59 proposed prohibiting schools from starting before Labor Day. Nationwide, twelve states, including Arkansas and North Carolina, have requirements relating to when the school year must start and stop. This fall, Jackson Public Schools will add an extra 25 minutes to the school day for middle school students, and an extra 15 minutes for high school students. The added minutes will help the district meet instructional requirements, even when schools close for weather or other issues.

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