Contrary to logic, the ability to count recess as instructional time depends entirely on the credentials of who supervises students during recess, regardless of the activities in which the students engage.
In Iowa, K12 schools are permitted to count recess as instructional time in order to satisfy the requirement that the school year consists of at least either 180 days or 1080 hours of instructional time. And recess counts — well, sometimes, at least — as we’ll see in a moment.
First, though, to clarify: the purpose of this post is not to debate whether recess should qualify as instructional time. Indeed, recess presents children with valuable opportunities to cultivate critical skills, such as teamwork, communication, and problem solving. Merely because recess occurs outside the permiters of a classroom does not quarantine children from learning, which is — or should be — the Prime Directive of our educational system. Accordingly, this post rests on the reasonably defensible premise that recess should constitute instructional time.
But lurking on the playground is an insidious administrative rule that may prevent Iowa K12 school districts from counting recess as instructional time. Surprisingly, the rule does not focus on what children actually do during recess; instead, the rule focuses on who supervises the children.
The Iowa Department of Education (“Department”) defines instructional time as the amount of time “students are under the guidance and instruction of the instructional professional staff.” But “instructional professional staff” does not include paraeducators — such as educational aides, educational associates, or instructional aides — which means that, unless an instructional professional staff member is physically present on the playground, recess does not qualify as instructional time. In other words, if a “mere” paraeducator supervises children playing four-square, shooting basketballs, or swinging on swings, recess does not qualify as instructional time, but if a licensed teacher or administrator supervises children engaged in those same activities, recess magically counts as instructional time.
The requirement that children be properly supervised during recess is laudable; however, excluding paraeducators from “instructional professional staff” — at least within the context of the administrative rule governing recess and instructional time — is baffling. Is the Department prepared to genuinely assert with a straight face that the instructional value of recess is greater if a licensed teacher or administrator, as opposed to a paraeducator, supervises children during recess? Doubtful, yet that’s the impact of this odd administrative rule.
But wait — there’s more! The administrative rule is even more baffling when the following is also considered. According to the Department’s own Paraeducator Brochure, Iowa paraeducators:
- “are critical to the social, emotional, academic, and vocational success of children and youth”;
- “are provided with training prior to initiating services and ongoing staff development to keep updated on best practices and current, effective strategies”; and
- “are recognized as important to the success of the school.”
Moreover, in a document titled Appropriate Paraeducator Services Matrix, which identifies specific duties paraeducators are authorized to perform, the Department specifically and conspicuously includes “supervising students during recess” as one of many functions paraeducators are permitted, and expected, to perform.
But what about a paraeducator who also possesses a teaching license? Certainly, the possession of a teaching license would seemingly nudge a paraeducator into the scope of “instructional professional staff.” Actually, no. A paraeducator is contracted as a paraeducator, not as a teacher. Consequently, schools are not permitted to count recess as instructional time, even if the paraeducator supervising the children during recess possesses a teaching license.
Given the foregoing, it’s difficult to comprehend the Department’s administrative rule governing recess and instructional time. If paraeducators are truly the professionals the Department claims they are, perhaps the Department should reevaluate its reluctance to count recess as instructional time merely because a paraeducator, as opposed to a licensed teacher or administrator, supervises children playing four-square. After all, the purpose of recess is to provide children with a break from the classroom, not to provide the Department a break from logic.