Early School Start

School calendar fundamentals
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Beware of INCREMENTAL 
School Calendar changes

The push for an early school start stems from pressures on state governments to improve school performance and high-stakes performance test. (See list of driving forces below.)

There is, however, little credible research to support the notion that starting school early will result in higher scores. Recent studies by school assessment and evaluation offices in Dallas, Texas, and Broward County, Fla., found no evidence of scoring advantage for schools that started earlier.  

See this letter to the editor: 
http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/080801/opl_6889525.html

See: Teachers: Leave school year as is:
 http://www.al.com/news/birminghamnews/index.ssf?/xml/story.ssf/html_standard.xsl?/base/news/1012904136278642.xml

A wave of government reports in the 1990s served as catalysts for experiments to restructure the school year.  The reports focused on time and learning and explored many factors that impact school achievement. They made many recommendations for providing more classroom instructional time and examined schools with alternative school calendars.  

Those same government reports also said improving the quality of instruction was key to better schools, but that recommendation has largely taken a backseat to a quick fix approach of school calendar reconfiguration.

Earlier school start dates are occurring incrementally in many communities. They often occur in communities where the year-round calendar — an integral step toward a longer school year  — was tried and rejected or studied and rejected. 

Incremental change in the school start date allows school districts to slip in unnoticed, and with less political opposition, a reconfigured calendar that is essentially a year-round calendar. A year-round calendar  is seen by many school reformers as the preliminary step toward a longer school year. A year-round calendar is defined as any school calendar with a summer break of eight weeks or less.

These reconfigured, earlier school years also make it easier to transition to a multi-track year-round calendar, which has also proven politically unpopular. The multi-track calendars are found in crowded school districts, where school construction has been unable to keep up with population growth.  Multi-track calendars are also found in districts where  tax caps prevent adequate revenues from being raised to build new schools  and where housing developers have been able to prevent costs of building new schools from becoming part of  infrastructure impact fees.

Experts say the growth of summer schools, new, voluntary six-week summer enrichment programs, and after-school tutorial sessions are   “a precursor to what will eventually be year-round school.” (Quietly, the School Calendar Evolves,” by Kerry White, Education Week, Oct. 27, 1999.)

Among the forces that push schools toward an earlier school year:

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High stakes testing.
Teachers and school administrators have been misled into believing that  getting more instructional days in before the date of the state assessment tests  will give them a scoring advantage.

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Consultants on school calendar reconfiguration.                         These consultants have made a lucrative business of selling school districts on the idea that reconfiguring the school year will result in greater academic achievement and make it easier to slip in a multi-track year-round calendar when districts are faced with school overcrowding.

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Government incentive money.
Cash-strapped school districts are often tempted to try unproven school calendar reforms by incentive funds offered by federal and state government programs for experiments with school calendars and other reforms designed to improve performance of low-performing students and at-risk kids. This pool of money is the lifeline of  those have turned school calendar reform into a business.

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Flawed government studies.                                                        Several government studies over the last 15 years recommended restructuring school time  based on flawed assumptions that America’s schoolchildren were getting less classroom instructional time than foreign competitors.  In fact, a careful analysis finds teaching time actually is highest in the United States (“Teaching time is highest in the U.S., by Tamara Henry, USA Today, April 12, 1995) in a comparison of 15 other industrialized nations. These government reports touted the longer school year and year-round schools.  A recent check of those schools cited in those reports as calendar reconfiguration success stories found that nearly all had returned to a traditional school year.

Early School Start: Talking Points

Summaries and notable quotes from media stories and research studies

Compiled by Billee Bussard

bussardre@aol.com

(See Below: Places To Watch)

 

 
Achievement

 

  COLUMBIA, S.C. --“Scheduling appears to be a neutral variable as it relates to student achievement,” according to a  review of the literature in a study done for the Richland School District Two in Columbia, S.C. Researchers hired by the district to do a feasibility study on school calendar change as a means to improve education reviewed the literature and reported:  As of this writing, the jury about school scheduling is still out. Common sense dictates that it is not the schedule that makes the difference, but what you put in it. Scheduling is neutral. It is a picture frame that can enhance the art that is put in it. But if there is no art or only a partially finished art, the frame is wasted. It is for that reason that the literature on scheduling began with a crescendo and ended with a pianissimo.”--“An alternative calendar/scheduling study for Richland School District Two,” Columbia, S.C., Feb. 22, 2000

DALLAS, Texas – Robert Mendro, Dallas’ chief evaluation officer,  said Dallas school officials studied the test scores of children who had fewer class days to get ready for the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills and found it did not affect student performance. At the time, students in Dallas year-round schools had two weeks more instructional time before the state assessment test is given. --Austin American-Statesman, Dec. 1, 2000


Costs
TEXAS - Lowering air conditioning bills are among the many reasons Texas lawmakers have introduced legislation to delay the first day of school to Aug. 21.--“Muffling  school bells until Aug. 21,” Jeff Wentworth, New Braunfels Herald-Century, Dec. 5, 2000.

 

Custodial Issues

TEXAS - “Some non-custodial parents have expressed concern that students’ extracurricular activities have shortened summers to the extent that they have very little time with their children,”  Texas Sen. Jeff Wentworth said. As a result of early school starts, parents are seeing their children less and less.--“Muffling  school bells until Aug. 21,” Jeff Wentworth, New Braunfels Herald-Century, Dec. 5, 2000.


Health Concerns

 

FRESNO, Calif: Parents say air quality and health concerns of their children are reasons  school trustees need to push the first date of school from Mid-August to after Labor Day.  Anita Hansen, one of the organizers of the effort, told school officials children forced to go to school during the harshest days of  summer, when the air quality becomes unbearable,  are put at serious health risks because their lungs are still developing. “It’s the long-term effect this will have on children,” she said. The parents backed their argument with information from the San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District, Environmental Protection Agency, the National Weather Service and the American Lung Association. The data shows August has the highest temperatures and the poorest air quality. –“Later Start of school considered in Fresno,” Felicia Cousrt Matlosz,-The Fresno Bee, Jan. 11, 2001

TEXAS -  Children sweltered in 100-plus degree temperatures during football and marching band practice as a result of ridiculous early school start dates, said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, who supports a bill to start school no earlier than Aug. 21.--“Muffling  school bells until Aug. 21,” Jeff Wentworth, New Braunfels Herald-Century, Dec. 5, 2000

 
Quality Instructional Time

 

FAIRFAX, Va. - Education psychologist Gerald Bracey said attempts to improve education by adding hours to the school year won’t work if the instruction is poor and if the teachers and administrators aren’t strongly committed to the longer school year and longer hours.--“In Race for Scores, One School Is on the Right Track,”  Jay Mathews, Washington Post, Dec. 5, 2000.

SOUTH CAROLINA -  Research shows that increased time is a matter of quality and not quantity. Increased time is correlated with the ability to use it well. Schools with a history of good time management do well. Schools with a history of poor time management do not do well. In many cases, more time, like the extended school day, is not used effectively” according to a feasibility study on schedule change done for the Richland School District Two, north of Columbia. --“An alternative calendar/scheduling study for Richland School District Two, Columbia, S.C., Feb. 22, 2000 based on a report by School Management Study Group, Salt Lake City, Utah.

CHICAGO, Ill. -The record low turnout last fall when school opened Aug. 22,  the worst attendance on opening day for  Chicago Public Schools in six years, has prompted the decision to start school after Labor Day.

School will officially open on Sept. 5, which will bring the district in line with other area districts, school officials said.

Schools CEO Paul Vallas attributed the low turnout last year to the high priority placed on  students’ summer jobs and family vacations.

A survey taken by the schools found 59 percent of parents thought an after-Labor Day opening was best, 23 percent said a week before Labor Day would be better, while only 8 percent approved a school opening two weeks before Labor Day. About 60 percent of teachers also preferred a later  school start date.

  While starting school earlier and ending it earlier gave students time to prepare for summer school, Vallas said the  “The benefits ended up being negligible. Parents had the feeling it was too short a break.” --Chicago Sun Times, Jan. 24, 2001 

HOOVER, ALA - Teachers objected to a proposal for an extended school year, saying long breaks throughout the school year will rob children of valuable instructional time. "The loss of instruction time is huge every week back from time off. Children take time getting back to the procedures and routines of school," one teacher told school officials. In a recent vote on the proposal for an extended school year with a July 29 start date, 68 percent of  school employees voted to stick to the traditional school year . --Birmingham News, Feb. 5, 2002

 

Early School Start: Places To Watch

 

 
District of Columbia

 

  WASHINGTON, D. C. - Many Washington area schools are keeping children in class longer, including Saturday classes, longer school days and early school starts.--“In Race for Scores, One School Is on the Right Track,”  Jay Mathews, Washington Post, Dec. 5, 2000.

 
North Carolina

  ROCKINGHAM COUNTY:  A survey of the community overwhelmingly favored  an early school start of Aug. 8. The supporters of the calendar. The new calendar, which finishes exams before the Christmas break, aligns more closely with the schedule of area colleges, allowing early high school graduates and dual-enrollment students to easily take higher education courses.--“County Residents favor early school start,” Jennifer Fernandez, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C., Jan 11, 2001.

 
Maryland

  PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY: The principal of S. Stone Elementary School, an advocate of year-round school and longer school years, is getting a lot of attention in the state because of  test score increases,   the largest one-year test score gain in the state.  The principal kept third and fifth graders after school two days a week for 90 minutes each day four months before the test was given. The percentage of students passing the state assessment test jumped from 14.8 percent to 46 percent. Programs in Houston, New York and Los Angeles and the Edison school in several cities are lengthening the school day and report achievement results. But educators worry about longer-day programs that appear aimed at prepping kids for tests.--“In Race for Scores, One School Is on the Right Track,”  Jay Mathews, Washington Post, Dec. 5, 2000
 

 
Texas

  Sen. Eddie Lucio authored a bill that would set the school start date no earlier than Aug. 21 and an ending date of not later than the first full week in June.--“Muffling  school bells until Aug. 21,” Jeff Wentworth, New Braunfels Herald-Century, Dec. 5, 2000.

 
Virginia

  Many ninth-graders began school two weeks earlier (in August)  in the Early Start program in Fairfax.  Fairfax has expanded the school week for 20 low-performing schools. --“In Race for Scores, One School Is on the Right Tr4ack,”  Jay Mathews, Washington Post, Dec. 5, 2000.

 
Other

  “An unmentioned benefit to expanding time” in the classroom is the subtle way to pay more money to teachers who work with low-performing children.  Teachers in Fairfax Virginia get 7 percent above their usual salaries for working a slightly longer day.  It is estimated teachers could see as much as a 20 percent increase in their paychecks for a longer school week.--“In Race for Scores, One School Is on the Right Track,”  Jay Mathews, Washington Post, Dec. 5, 2000.

 

Early Start: What the Research Says

 

South Carolina

 
A  Richland School District study  determined  “the traditional calendar is in the best interest of Richland Two students and the community, and that an alternative school calendar would have adverse consequences for the district.” The Richland District, north of Columbia, serves the northeast sector of South Carolina’s most populated county.

Among the findings in the study:  “Scheduling appears to be a neutral variable as it relates to student achievement.

“Scheduling that increases the use of facilities has not been readily accepted by parents and school employees.”

Richard rejected the idea of alternative calendars, including year-round school with its early school start, and urged the district to focus on time management in the traditional school year as a means to improve education performance.

The following is an excerpt from that large study:

“Research shows that increased time is a matter of quality and not quantity. Increased time is correlated with the ability to use it well. Schools with a history of good time management do well. Schools with a history of poor time management do not do well. In many cases, more time, like the extended school day, is not used effectively.

“In an attempt to prove that the liberation from the time box of the Carnegie unit was crucial to the release of educational energies, a massive quantity of theoretical and empirical research was published over the years. The results, to this day, are ambivalent, and at times, contradictory. The reasons are many, in particular, the absence of cohesiveness of the research efforts, differences of methodology, inconsistency of definitions and the bias of some researchers. Most research in the area of scheduling covers short time periods, and is not accompanied by longitudinal data.

“The explicit bias of educators, educational leaders and promulgators of the various forms of scheduling must be taken into account. It is a fact that the major contributors to the literature on scheduling are proponents of a particular system.

“Teaching and learning effectiveness on year-round scheduling are supposed to result in higher academic achievement, especially among at-risk populations. As of now, such a claim cannot be verified through research.

“In addition to learning outcomes, the year-round program impacts more than any other educational innovation the life-styles of the community.

“The literature on scheduling cannot be exhausted. However, sometimes its quality is a challenge. Large portions merely address technical problems of scheduling. The inherent credo in this approach is that introducing one of the seven schedules, if done properly, is the bane  of school reform. Others caution that research and evaluation studies on the subject are chronically deficient.

“As of this writing, the jury about school scheduling is still out. Common sense dictates that it is not the schedule that makes the difference, but what you put in it. Scheduling is neutral. It is a picture frame that can enhance the art that is put in it. But if there is no art or only a partially finished art, the frame is wasted. It is for that reason that the literature on scheduling began with a crescendo and ended with a pianissimo.

“Scheduling depends on what is put in it. Among the most important features that must be faced before new scheduling is introduced are curriculum development, teacher preparation, and focus.

Curriculum dictates scheduling and not vice versa. Faculties must define their curriculum clearly enough to justify the introduction of new scheduling. Exhaustive and extensive curriculum planning, at least in some areas, is indispensable. Schools must take into account that not all members of the faculty are trained and prepared to rethink curriculum. The need to engage outside expertise may be more common than assumed

“Teaching in units of time other than the conventional 45 or 50 minutes requires new approaches. Teachers need not only thorough retraining, but continuous reinforcement. The professional literature is usually optimistic about teacher flexibility and adjustment capabilities. It must be remembered that most colleges prepare teachers for the conventional schedule of 45 or 50-minute classes. The reorganization of instruction in ways that are productive for longer classes is no small matter. Even if put in a new environmental situation, teachers are prone to strive toward their original experience.

“A revised schedule also necessitates focus or definition. If, for example, the school strives toward improved academic achievement, activities within the new schedule should focus on it. Related activities should be measured in terms of their contribution to the major objective.”

--“An alternative calendar/scheduling study for Richland School District Two, Columbia, S.C., Feb. 22, 2000 based on a report by School Management Study Group, Salt Lake City, Utah

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Updated Feb. 2002