the logic of the school calendar, or: “testing” and “revenue” are not “learning”

We’ve lived in Minnesota long enough that we’re (more or less) over the annual shock at how late colleges, universities, and school start here. By law, Minnesota public schools can’t start before Labor Day (although some districts have applied for and received waivers that allow an earlier start).

I don’t know how or when that started, and the only opinion I have about school start dates is that year-round schooling makes far more sense to me. What I do know, however, is that I’m freaked out and saddened by the terms of the current debate over allowing earlier school start dates.

On a recent drive back from the library, I heard an NPR piece on this issue. The argument for earlier start dates? That way, schools could cram in more instructional hours before “high-stakes” standardized testing, thus evening the field with other states whose schools already open earlier in the year. The argument against? The tourist industry doesn’t want to lose revenue; ditto for the State Fair.

It was as though students were sorta incidental, working families had no particular needs, and what I think of as “education” and “learning” didn’t matter at all.

I wish that we could ask, instead: What would the school year look like if the central goals were fostering children’s intellectual curiosity and serving families’ needs?

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  1. Amanda H
    Posted 26 February 2013 at 8:18 AM | Permalink

    yes. agreed, molly. especially your last statement. in my experience thus far with public school (a charter school nonetheless) is that it is NOT about fostering children’t intellectual curiosity by any means.

    for us it has been about how “motivating” sticker charts are for “good behavior” to earn a prize, aka a piece of junk that sits for weeks on the kitchen counter until I throw it away. that and how sad it is when the other kids don’t want to play at recess.

    my other beef (while i’m ranting) is how 2 hour delays and snow days are SO frequent. Not only is my concern about this about the frustration that people around here can’t handle winter weather, but I can not see how they help anyone. literally, all i think it does is make everyone’s lives more difficult that day.

    on the one hand, i wish we could homeschool like you since your ideas sound great, and my boy is an intellectual and would love it. but, one the other hand, i think we would kill each other by the end of the day. :-)

    but, yes. it should be about learning.

  2. Jennifer Z.
    Posted 27 February 2013 at 11:59 PM | Permalink

    I find that things are geared a lot more towards working families than families with a stay at home parent. For example, kindergarten used to be half a day to allow a transition into school, but now almost every single school in our city (except the one we chose) is full-day. This is because there are more working families in our area, and kids who have been in daycare and preschool full-time don’t need a transition into school. Unfortunately this means that kids with a stay at home parent either don’t get a transition into school, or school must start a year earlier for them since pre-k is half a day. Then there is the issue of community ed classes. When I was a kid, a community ed summer class would be once a week for a number of weeks. Now community ed is every day for one week straight. I guess this was preferable to working families who found it easier to make special arrangements to get their child to the class for one week instead one day a week for several weeks. But for a stay at home parent it is a huge pain, since they generally have many other things going on and having to clear their schedule for an entire week can be tough. It also would be great to have an ongoing class to fill more time and create some routine during the summer months. As for year-round school, I have mixed feelings about that. I kind of like having our summers together, though the transitions into and back out of them are tough, so year-round would also have it’s advantages. Ideally, I wish there were more options, so families could choose what worked best for them.

    • Molly
      Posted 28 February 2013 at 11:05 AM | Permalink

      Yes to more options! And we actually live in an options-rich educational environment, because we live in a pretty progressive city–there are a couple year-round schools, a public Montessori (though good luck getting a spot there!), lots of more traditional schools, full-day and half-day kindergarten programs, a lively secular homeschooling community plus a more stereotypically religious one that I never see in person, diverse private options. Spoiled for choice, really.

      I wish more places could sound like that, and I also just wish the terms of debates about school schedules were more like what you’re saying here (what do various families and children need?) rather than what they actually seem to be (money / test scores).

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