What issues are involved in setting a school calendar?

Yesterday, the Superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools in Colorado summarized the major issues involved in setting a modern school calendar. In an op-ed in  PostIndependent.com, Rob Stein contradicts the common assertion that the that traditional school year with a summer vacation was designed to assist with work on farms.

You know the myth: We still have an agrarian calendar that allows kids to go to school in winter and work in the fields during the summer. But think about it: The busy times for agriculture are during spring planting and fall harvest. If we really had an agrarian school calendar, we would have two breaks, one in planting season and the other for harvest. Midsummer, when days are long and there is less work to do in the fields, would surely allow kids time after school to tend crops.

In reality, our current school calendar is actually a byproduct of urbanization. With the rise of industry in the 19th century, more people crowded into cities. Urban areas were unpleasant places during summer: horse manure and primitive sewage systems, combined with heat and population density, made them stifling and disgusting. Upper and middle classes would escape the urban heat for country getaways. So schools, which at that time were not universally attended (the first state to legislate compulsory attendance was Massachusetts in 1852; the last was Mississippi in 1917), shut down for summer vacation.

He notes that schools can now serve students during the summer and that the academic year is too short:

According to the National Center on Time and Learning, students should have at least 1,440 hours of school per year — that number makes more sense when you realize that it equals 180 school days times eight hours per day. However, very few schools around the country have that much time in session. Most states require 180 days of school per year; Colorado is one of only five states that requires less than 175 days. Roaring Fork Schools have more days per year than most districts in Colorado at 174, as well as slightly longer days at about seven and a half hours. Factoring in early release Wednesdays, our students still spend about 200 hours less per year than recommended.

He advocates investing in full-day kindergarten for all students. He also says it is a worthwhile to provide more extended-day and extended-year enrichment opportunities for low-income students.

He also notes that teenagers need more sleep and could  benefit from a later start to the school day. “This is challenging because transportation schedules, after-school activities schedules and schedules for students who care for younger siblings are all forces of resistance for a later start.”

Stein also points out that teachers need time for planning, collaborative planning, and professional development. “Though parents may be inconvenienced by shortened school days on Wednesdays and professional development days throughout the year, that professional learning time for teachers pays dividends for their children’s learning,” he asserts.

 

 

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