How many weeks are in a school year? This answer can vary depending on what school system we are talking about.
When it comes to our public education system, not everything is created equal. What is good for one state is not good for another. You can break it down even further and look closely inside a specific state at the different school districts to see that even those have their differences. Back at the state level, one of the bigger differences you will see comes from just how much time a student is required to be in school during an academic school year. In the United States, we have vacations, we have holidays, we have sick days, and we have professional development days. All of these factor in mightily when determining how many weeks are in a school year.
HOW MANY WEEKS ARE THERE IN AN ACADEMIC SCHOOL YEAR
The first thing you should know when it comes to how many weeks are in a school year is what we said above. Not everything is created equal when it comes to our public education system. This definitely holds true for the length of a school year. While we may see a number of states with similar hour requirements, how these states hit those requirements vary.
In some states, a typical school year will begin near the middle of August and run all the way through the first or second week of June (others start after Labor Day in September). For instance, the 2020-21 school year in South Florida ran from August 19 to June 9th. So, of the 52 weeks in a year, South Florida covered 43 weeks of it. That’s how many weeks are in a school year there. You may think that many total weeks in a school year is a lot, and it is. But when you look a little closer at their numbers, four complete weeks of the 43 (or 31 days), the school was closed due to holidays or teacher development days. So, in total, South Florida had 39 weeks of education or 180 days of instruction.
Scanning the United States, you will see many school districts with the same pattern. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), typically there are anywhere from 160 to 185 school days and on average across the nation with the actual average being 175-180 school days. So, while we can get a better number of school days, school weeks may be harder to define.
In contrast to South Florida’s school year, we can look at the Houston, Texas school year. Their school year only covers 40 weeks out of the year and is open for 36 of them. In the 2020-21 year, Houston students started school on September 8th and ended school on June 11. This came to a grand total of 199 weekday school days. When you remove the 28 days (four weeks) of teaching for holidays and teacher development, the Houston students only had 171 days of instruction.
FACTORING SUMMER VACATION
For the longest time, it was believed that summer vacation derived from the fact that summer break (or vacation) came from America’s agrarian history. It’s what made the how many weeks are in a school year question somewhat perplexing. These would be children working the family farms during the long, hot summers. With that in mind, it is not hard to imagine that America’s school calendar started with that in mind.
In a report by Time magazine a number of years back, the magazine talked about the achievement gap seen by students who get an exceptionally long summer break, saying the long break was based on “a legacy on the farm economy.” NPR even reported that the school year across the nation was based upon an “agrarian calendar that dates back to farm cycles and harvests.” According to Kenneth Gold, a historian at the College of Staten Island, most of these assumptions are incorrect.
“What school on the agrarian calendar actually looked like was a short winter term and a short summer term,” said Gold to PBS. “And if you think about farming needs, that’s actually what makes sense.” So, while summer vacation affects just how many weeks are in a school year, it wasn’t kids farming that helped create the academic calendar.
“The whole idea of an agrarian calendar makes it sound like it was an unthinking decision but the current school year was really a conscious creation,” said Gold. If it was truly about farming needs, summertime is when kids were actually in school. They were first needed in the spring when the drops needed to be planted. Then they were needed in the fall time when the crops needed harvesting. The number of weeks needed in an academic year was based off of that.
Children in urban schools had a much different school schedule than those in rural areas. For them, school was open pretty much year-round. School wasn’t mandatory (we are talking in the mid-1800s) and they would go to school when they could. New York City schools were open a robust 248 days a year, which is way more than the 35-38 weeks students see now.
HOW MANY WEEKS ARE IN A SCHOOL YEAR BY STATE
For the most part, your child will be in school on average of 180 days out of the school year. This means they will be in school an average of 35-36 weeks out of the academic school year. Again, this can vary greatly, based on the state you live in. While we can’t break down the exact number of school weeks by state per year, we can give you an idea of what each state requires by the number of school days. The following list will show each state, their required days, or if there is a different requirement.
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States with 180 days in a school year (roughly 42 weeks)
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming
States with other day requirements
Arkansas – 178 days
California – 175-180 days
Colorado – 160 days
Illinois – 176-185 days
Kansas – grades 1-11 186 days, grade 12 181 days
Kentucky – 170 days
Louisiana – 176 days
Minnesota – grade 1-11 165 days, grade 12 1,020 hours
North Carolina – 185 days
North Dakota – 175 days
Vermont – 175 days
States with hour requirements
Delaware – Grades K-11 1,060 hours, Grade 12 1,032 hours
Idaho – Kindergarten 450 hours, grades 1-3 810 hours, grades 4-8 900 hours, grades 9-12 990 hours
Missouri – kindergarten 522 hours, grades 1-12 1,044 hours
Montana – K-3 720 hours, grades 4-12 1,080, graduating seniors 1,050 hours;
Nebraska – kindergarten 400 hours, grades 1-8 1,032 hours, grades 9-12 1,080 hours
New Mexico – full-day K-6 990 hours, grades 7-12 1,080 hours;
Ohio – full-day K-6 910 hours, grades 7-12 1,001 hours
Oregon – full-day K-8 900 hours, grades 9-11 990 hours, grade 12 966 hours;
South Dakota – kindergarten 437.5 hours; grades 1-5 875 hours, grades 6-12 962.5 hours
Texas – 1,260 hours
Wisconsin – kindergarten 437 hours, grades 1-6 1,050 hours, grades 7-12 1,137 hours;
As you can see, knowing how many weeks are in a school year can be a tricky thing. Every state has its own rules, though there are many who follow the same pattern. Naturally, the past two years with the COVID pandemic have not been kind to students, so you can probably take the above numbers with a grain of salt until the individual states begin to work out how much school has been missed and how much may need to be made up. You may see a major increase in how many weeks are in a school year for the foreseeable future.