Thursday, August 12, 2010

Arguments for an Early Start

School is starting or has started for many Central Indiana communities this week. Yesterday, for example, Indianapolis Public Schools and several other Marion County school districts returned to class. If the students aren’t back in class this week, then they are likely back in class at the start of next week.

It’s early, and students (and some teachers) are likely belly aching about having to go back to school, but it makes sense to start now given our current laws.

In recent times, the state legislature has required 180 days of school. Prior to Tony Bennett’s tenure as Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, that 180 day number was sorta kinda just a guide. Schools could apply for waivers or have half days and use creative math to come up with 180 days.

So, let’s say you’re the MSD of Podunk. A winter storm comes through your area and cancels school for four days. Under the old system, the MSD of Podunk could request a waiver from the state to cancel those days, and it would likely be granted.

Bennett ended that practice as one of his first acts in office and has told schools that he expects the districts to be in class 180 days, come heck or high water. He also said that any days short of that would have to be made up. Thus, he ended professional development days and other half days of testing, etc. Basically, he wants 180 days of instruction, and I support him.

For every week you go later for the start of school, you can add one week at the end of school. So, that means that if you do the math, a post-Labor Day start as many argue for right now puts schools in session into mid-to-late June. It’s simple math. Add up the energy costs as the AC gets cranked for an extra month, and you begin to see that financially, it just doesn’t make sense for districts in the state.

From an instructional standpoint, a Tuesday-after-Labor Day-start doesn’t make sense, either. Right now, the current schedule allows most schools to nicely end its first semester at the winter break point in December. When school resumes in January, the second semester can begin as a fresh start. I know that when I was in school and we legged over that winter break, teachers would always load me down with homework.

I can accept many ideas for educational reform, but I just can’t see where an “after Labor Day” start does anything but recall somebody’s “good ole’ days” of yore. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I say let the educational professionals determine start dates and school schedules. Besides, I think the time for year-round school or the "balanced schedule" is upon us, perhaps. That goes back to school funding, however.

That’s a can of worms for another day.


Anonymous said...

lengthen the school day. Shorten the school year. We spend $1 million a day on transportations costs alone in Indiana. If you started to measure instructional hours rather than days you could meet the targets. we all know much of the day is not targeted to instructional time. If we measure the actual instructional time we can get better results and save money

Anonymous said...

Jon, you obviously must teach in air conditioned rooms or your view would be different. What happens in this extreme heat is that all efforts are made to keep students somewhat hydrated and everyone becomes sluggish and little teaching goes on. Thus, while the bodies are there, the minds are elsewhere.

In addition, when Bennett was superintendent of his failing school system in southern Indiana, he used a massive number of days for weather related cancellations. How quickly he forgets.

Jon Sutton said...

Jon, I read your blog daily but I must disagree on one of your points here.

As a high school student myself, I can say without a doubt that Bennet's cancellation of the half day waiver program has hurt at least my school. We used to have half days at least for finals. It was a win win scenario. Some students went home to study and others had a well deserved nap. Meanwhile, teachers had more time to grade. English teachers esepecially supported me when I called Dr. Bennett and asked him to explain his thinking. I had hard data and testimonials from tenured teachers that said how my school used the waiver program was for the best. Our scores represented that. My high school is continually ranked as one of the best in the state.

When I finally did get a chance to speak to the Superintendent, he was eating a meal while on the phone with me. He was smug, condescending, and offered no reasonable points to back up his decision except his line that " I am a constitutionalist. " What a load of crap.

I understand some schools may have abused the rule, but why punish the ones who didn't and the ones who continually produce some of the best scores in the state? Surely they are doing something right.

For the record, I'm writing this comment while in class. How is that for irony.

Anonymous said...

The problem is not the amount of time spent in the classroom, it is coming up with innovative ways to keep kids wanting to learn.

Schools really don't do things all that much differently than when I was a student back in the '60s and early '70s.

But we live now in the Attention-Deficit era.

Find innovative ways to deliver information and equip the kids with laptops to work at home on the internet.

Then, you can lessen the "formal" school year to 120 days and the kids will learn more than they would have in 180 days sitting in classes in hard chairs listening to another boring lecture.