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?