In yet another attempt to improve standardized test results, State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox proposes that all Georgia schools should begin in August each year.
What a novel idea.
After several years of starting in July, Commerce will begin its 2008-09 school year Aug. 7. It will end May 22.
The pendulum is swinging back toward a longer summer.
In the Jurassic Age when I attended public schools, the year ended the first or second week of June and kids were off until the third or fourth week of August. School ended last May 16 in Commerce and a week later in Jackson County.
Cox wants to put more summer (as opposed to spring) in summer vacation for the sake of test scores, but a few years ago, the General Assembly, under pressure from the state’s tourism lobbyists, wanted to standardize summer vacations so Six Flags wouldn’t suffer.
Longer vacations mean more trips to theme parks and beaches, and the availability of cheap summer labor. Hear the “ka-ching” of cash registers.
The prevailing educational idea at the time, though, was that shorter summer breaks helped student achievement. The number of school days stayed at 180 (no one wants to tinker with that sacred number) with additional days off and longer Christmas (now known as “winter holidays”) breaks. Little Johnny wouldn’t forget so much of what he learned, the theory went.
As a kid, I thought 180 days was about 150 too many. When I became a parent of two school-age children, my perspective changed. I thought year-round school was ideal, but now, with no children for whom to arrange full-time child care, call me ambivalent.
The highlights of summer were the Little League baseball season and our annual family camping trip — three weeks in August. (Today, tent camping for three weeks in August sounds like cruel and unusual punishment.) In spite of the oppressive Florida heat (and because there was no air conditioning), we spent long hours outside playing baseball and basketball and riding our bicycles. We had no computers, three channels on a black and white TV with a defunct vertical hold and no video games. You’d think we’d be ready for school to start in late August.
You’d be wrong. We returned to school with the enthusiasm of a cat going to the veterinarian. Summer was freedom; school was discipline — no contest there.
Educators needed a long, long break to regain sanity, and the hottest time of the year was ideal since schools had no air conditioning. Even today, shifting a week of school from July to May makes sense in terms of lower utility costs.
But test scores and the No Child Left Behind Act drive school policy, from the curriculum to vacation days. The state, not the local school system, decides who’s going to go to the next grade and who won’t.
Changing vacation times won’t make our kids test better. Let’s give them the summer off and make the bureaucrats take the CRCT. Maybe we’re testing the wrong folks.