Do not pass go. Do not collect summer fun.

Photos by Sophia Noelle Photography

The smoke from the 4th of July’s rockets’ red glare and the bombs bursting in air has hardly cleared when I open my Sunday paper and discover there is a sizzling sale: get 2 for 1, half price this, and a 1 cent that for….Back-to-School. What the heck? The kids barely got out of school, and now I am suppose to start stocking up on the khaki skorts and neck crushing polo thing-a-majigs? They haven’t even had enough time to bless me with the whole “I am bored” song and dance. In my book, early July is the middle of summer. But then again, my book may be as obsolete as the paper books used to actually be published on. Or for you grammarians out there: the paper upon which books used to be published.

No doubt, early start dates are driving early back-to-school sales, but what is driving the early start dates?

For the last few years the optimal school start date has been hotly debated nationwide, with both camps armed with compelling arguments. Kentucky, Florida, Iowa and Denver have all instituted early to mid-August dates. This year Tennessee starts August 1. According to Market Data Retrieval,  an education trend tracker, 75% of schools nationwide start well before Labor Day.

State legislatures and district officials point out that early start means the first semester ends before Christmas break, resulting in a true break for the students with no homework over vacation. Good thing #1.They take their finals before break and have less retention loss, as well. Good thing #2. The College Board- administered Advanced Placement exams occur in May.Therefore, a May end date eliminates the idle time after exams when students mentally check out until mid-June. Good thing #3.: All this translates into better test scores which positions districts in a positive light. Good thing #4? Perhaps.

However, parents have been pushing back with campaigns such as
Save our Summer Kentucky and Save our Summer Iowa and the Coalition for a Traditional School Year. They counter point that early starts cut into family vacation time and negatively impact state tourism. It also makes it harder for students to find summer work, an experience where real life education takes place. It also drives up utility bills due to the air-conditioning needed to keep classrooms comfortable during the dog days of summer. Some districts have listened and ping-ponged the dates to late August. I guess money does talk. And to be fair, there is genuine concern for students trying to concentrate in the swampy humidity of places such as Florida.

I live in a suburb of Los Angeles, home to the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest district nationwide after New York City (which, ironically, doesn’t start until September). This year LAUSD will be starting school August 14. Several Los Angeles private schools are following the public school trend and opening the doors in mid-August. No doubt, this is a truncated summer. It will be a hard transition year as teachers and students return to the classroom, not fully recharged. Throw summer school in there, and it won’t be hard to envision burnout  by October.

I work at a secondary school so I get it that this schedule will result in better test scores, more restful breaks, etc. And since it is my job to market our great school, better test scores make it easier for me to do that. I also hear parents, of which I am one, frustrated that family vacations have been cut short. Perhaps a different tune will be sung during Christmas break when the little darlings can play with their new toys all day long, not a term paper in sight!

Each side can tout the merits of their position, but the question I am throwing out into cyberspace is this: what best serves students? Is it to score as high as possible on standardized test so they can gain a foothold to the prized top-tier college that, in theory, results in better employment and life opportunities? Is the Save our Summer grassroots movement right in asserting that early start dates do little to improve testing and negatively impacts quality of life? At what point do we just let our kids enjoy their childhood and worry about the competitiveness of the “real world” later? Or perhaps in this hyper-tech era, the real world starts in early childhood and long idle summers have gone the way of the horseless carriage.

Proponents say the early start schedule mimics the college track, as if that were reason enough to do it. However, why do kindergarteners need to follow a college track? For that reason, why do middle schoolers or high schoolers? Shouldn’t they have a high school experience in high school and college experience in college? Are we rushing our kids to rush through life?

I am not sure the questions will be answered soon. It will be interesting a year from now to evaluate how the LAUSD’s new calendar has worked out. In the meanwhile, what do you think: is an early summer start date a good or a bad idea?

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4 thoughts on “Do not pass go. Do not collect summer fun.

  1. It is a bad idea! What happened to starting school in September? As a high school student, I do feel overwhelmed with talk of college and would like time to live life in the now. Summer used to be a lengthy break with time to see your friends, relax, and spend time on your hobbies. Now with summerwork and shorter breaks there is barely time for those things! I feel that the Save our Summer program is correct in saying that early start dates don’t affect test scores alot. In my opinion, testing well is not affected by when you start school. It is a matter of how much time a student puts into learning and if they are a hard worker. I also agree that starting summer early negatively impacts the quality of life. Shorter summers result in less time to enjoy the things God had given us. There needs to be a balance between work and play! Leaders of education need to stop being so frantic about testing higher, incorporating summerwork into summer, and cramming more information into the brain! We need to stop looking towards how we can improve and just stop and smell the roses!

  2. You bring up so many good points, Maria.

    It struck me that if students can’t remember information for two weeks during Christmas vacation, it doesn’t give much hope for longer-term retention. (On the other hand, I have trouble remembering what I did yesterday.)

    I’m familiar with the “dead” time after AP exams. But this affects a relatively small percentage of K through 12 students, even if they are ever so smart. And why is The College Board dictating when millions of students take their vacations, return to school, and for that matter, buy their back-to-school supplies?

    Maybe we should adopt the schedule they use in Australia: School starts at the end of January, there are four terms, and they finish at the beginning of December. Makes sense to them I guess. Or maybe we need a national Back to School Day, like we have a national day for Memorial and Labor Day. Maybe January 2nd. As for me, I’m pretty much opposed to any vacation for kids, but that’s just the mean mom in me:)

  3. Long live the mean mom! You are right: why do the kids need a break when its the mom who does all the work? How about we all go Down Under? The kids can go to school while the old folks relax and eat veggimite sandwhiches. Not sure its the College Board who is dictating as much as the officials following the board’s schedule. Many universities end in May, but not too many start in August. I think most, like SLO, start in September.,,thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. I got a first hand look at back to school sales at Staples today. $1 for some spirals! I read an article very recently in the WSJ editorial section suggesting that universities use their resources more efficiently by, in part, providing three year programs and more year round school. It also said colleges have a shorter teaching year by almost a month than they did in the 80’s. Less bang for the buck, while the buck has gotten lots bigger. That’s why my dear college student is home a month longer than his poor brothers.

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