Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What are the Drivers of a School Start Date?

I read Trace Pickering's arguments about Iowa start dates, and highly recommend it.  Local control really does go a long way in making the correct choices for a community.

But as we go through this discussion locally, let's take a minute to think about why we have a summer break in the first place.  Three seconds to get your answer.





Did you answer agriculture?
I'll bet that's a common answer.  I have heard it at countless in-services.  But if you have a local community school, and you don't have an ag system, why do you still start after August 1?

Because it is the wrong assumption and it has been made a scapegoat.  Agriculture involves less than 3% of the population. Pesticides and big round bales have replaced much of the manual work that used to be done with teen labor.


Consider the other drivers when you have this discussion:

  • Weather.  School buildings are designed with relatively low insulation value, which is not helpful for AC.  There's a reason for that--crowd 150 kids into a building day after day and there's a residual heat buildup.  Any teacher can tell you Monday morning temperatures in a building are less than Friday morning.
  • Youth Activities.   IHSAA and IHSGAU set the practice dates for fall sports, and they have moved up, as have school calendars.  However, we have club sports, college camps, and the Iowa Games. County fairs,wim team, little league, summer town celebrations, summer camps also play a part in the vision. Summer is the logical time for many of these and a great example of long-tail learning. 
  • Vacations.  This is a driver, but less than one would think.   One good argument for an early start date is actually the fact that families pull kids out of school for vacation whether school is in session or not.  Family time trumps school time in the eyes of most stakeholders.
  • Higher Learning.  Want highly educated educators?  Set your school schedule around the times when the classes are available. Most advanced degrees still have an on-campus requirement for part of the process.  Have Iowa colleges and universities weighed in on this?  If we are honest, schools should be streamlined to work with them in an era of concurrent-enrollment/senior year plus.
  • Facilities Management.  Visit a school during the summer and see how things are moved around, disrupted.   I am sure much of this could be scheduled during breaks, but this work is a source of income for young people as well.   Maintenance staff paradigm shifts take education and careful scheduling.
  • Lack of Stakeholder Involvement. Many administrative teams make the calendar and give it to the board.  Sometimes they give the teachers a choice of one or two calendars in advance.  But there is almost no parent, community, or student stakeholder involvement.  Why do we make decisions for kids that involve large chunks of their life in a authority-knows-best manner?   How about an open meeting to ask for that input and leadership?

Kids can learn whenever we give them the chance. It's a local decision.  But it is also a statement of what your community values.  Think about it.

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