The Whiteboard Jungle: Later in the Day, Not Earlier in the Summer
Glendale schools opened on Aug. 12, the earliest start date in history, doing away with the traditional September-through-June school calendar that hasn't been all that traditional for a while now. The back-to-school ads that once appeared in newspapers and on television before Labor Day now surface after the Fourth of July.
The rationale behind this "August creep" is for students to finish the fall semester before winter break, and for students taking Advanced Placement tests in May to receive more instructional days earlier in order to maximize their success.
In others words, the school calendar is skewed toward secondary students who have semester finals, and in particular, the minority of students who take AP tests. For students in kindergarten through fifth grade, there is no reason.
The argument of having students take their fall semester finals before winter break so that they don't forget the material while on vacation isn't sound. Students used to come back after vacation for a couple of weeks of school and then take their finals.
Now, they come back after one week off for Thanksgiving for two weeks before finals — not much different than before.
The notion of providing students more time to prepare for AP tests so that they produce higher results is also not valid.
Students this year actually have one less school day before the May AP exams than last year. While the school year began one week earlier, there are additional days when school is not in session before AP testing: two extra days during Thanksgiving and three extra days during winter break.
Carly Lindauer of the college board said that she is unaware of any "evidence to show that simply starting school earlier, and having two to three more weeks of instruction, automatically leads to higher AP exam scores."
And what about the energy costs to run air conditioning during August, which has an average of about 11 days that reach 90 degrees or more, based on Weatherbase statistics? Notice how hot and muggy it has been this week.
The district frequently sends out emails to staff about turning off lights, copiers and computers. Yet the amount of money it costs to run the air conditioning all day at all of its schools must exceed the savings of turning off coffee makers. I was unable to get a district official to comment on this.
Where I work, there are older buildings that use a chiller that has to be turned on as early as 4 a.m.; otherwise, classrooms will not be properly cooled that day. If students can't focus on a teacher in a stuffy room, who cares how many school days there are in August?
Tina Bruno, executive director of the Coalition for a Traditional School Year, said that evidence suggests that "states with the highest cumulative scores on college entrance exams, Advanced Placement testing and the National Assessment of Educational Progress share some of the latest school start dates in the nation."
The quality of the instruction and parent involvement have more to do with kids doing better in school than spending more time in school in August does.
If school districts care about what's best for kids, then perhaps an examination of the start of the school day, rather than the start of the school year, is where their focus should be because more studies show the academic benefits of starting school after 9 a.m., rather than starting in early August.