Why is this nation stuck on a 9.5-month school calendar that has been proven to have a harmful effect on academic outcomes as a result of the 2.5-month summer hiatus? Why are teachers compelled to spend weeks each year re-establishing basic classroom routines and reviewing concepts that have been forgotten over the summer?
Two reasons stand out…
First, during the Agrarian Age — pre-dating the Industrial Age — farmers really did need children to help tend the crops on the family farm during the summer. Speaking as someone who, as a child, helped bring in the harvest in agricultural country, this was time that likely would have been better spent in a classroom.
Second, human beings have proven curiously resistant to changing long-practiced, traditional behaviors even when those behaviors are demonstrably deleterious to the common good. Too many of us still resist seat belts in cars & helmets on motorcycles.
Our agrarian school calendar was never predicated on the assumption of optimal learning conditions for students. Back then school was where the academic wheat was separated from the chaff. At the dawn of the Age of Information, one can only hope that future decisions about our school calendar will be grounded firmly on the concept of improving learning outcomes for every child rather than enhancing profits for private enterprise.
Here in Prince George’s County, the education community has been coping with the rigors of the externally imposed testing regimen, in part, by opening schools prior to Labor Day. The extra days of instruction have yielded dividends in improved performance on the federally mandated statewide assessments.
This local strategy has borne fruit. Some percentage of our increase in test scores can be directly attributed to the extra instructional time before March “Testing” Madness begins.
Most educators concluded long ago that standardized assessments are (how can this be phrased kindly?) less-than-ideal measures of student growth. However, as long as so much rides on those results, the education community must be free, locally, to implement any calendar that prevents the loss of resources for the schools.
Compelling all schools systems to move opening until after Labor Day is terrible public policy for many reasons, not the least of which is once again reducing the role of children to chattel for the labor mills.
[This Commentary first appeared in the Prince George’s Gazette on February 5, 2015. It has been revised. ]