Remodeling the School Calendar
October 31, 2011
I enjoy sitting on my patio on warm summer days. I also like taking a vacation in the summer.
North Carolina is steeped in the tradition of summer vacations and students being off for two months. But is that really working for reaching high student achievement?
North Carolina currently has a 185-day requirement for student instructional time. This requirement is new and was put into place for the first time in the 2011 legislative session. (Prior to this, students received 180 days of instruction.) School districts received a waiver from the additional five days for the 2011-12 school year so that they could use those five days for important professional development to prepare staff for new curriculum and assessments that will be in place next school year. In 2012-13, students will have the benefit of 185 instructional days.
Even with this increase, our students go to school for fewer days than most other industrialized nations. For example, most European countries have school years of 190 instructional days or more. Japan, China and Korea have school years that top 200 instructional days per year. Over the course of a student's educational career, that can equal more than a year's difference in time spent in classroom learning. Not only do we lag in total number of days, but we also have school calendars that challenge students to keep up.
Harvard University's research shows that students in homes with few books, magazines and other reading material lose 2½ to 3 months of reading progression each summer in the K-3 grade levels. Every year, K-3 teachers start at a lower level of reading instruction for some students.
Why in the world would we continue this ineffective practice for our students who are the most vulnerable learners? Why can we not see that an investment of continuing instruction over the summer will yield a greater return for students' academic success?
This "calendar sunroom" definitely needs remodeling. Sometimes it is really hot on my patio in June, but it is very pleasant in October or April. If I were to use my patio just in the summer, I would not be taking full advantage of the initial investment I've made in my patio.
The same is true of public schools. Will our state legislators be bold enough to remove the calendar door that blocks remodeling and stifles innovation to accelerate learning – especially in the early grades?
Our remodeling budget is tight, yet there are calendar changes that we could make that would be low cost or no cost and yet would reap major dividends for student academic success.
June St. Clair Atkinson