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Does an earlier start result in student achivement?
The day before we left for the holiday break, our school district delivered the news that our summer vacation would be shortened two weeks this year due to an earlier start of the 2010/ 2011 school year. The new school year will begin August 16 for us- a full two weeks earlier than usual and over three weeks sooner than most schools around the country. I am not a fan of starting the school year while there is summer still left to be enjoyed, but advocates for the change in our district claimed that it would increase student achievement and productivity.
I would like to know how. Is an earlier start time really going to make such a big difference in student success? The objective for starting earlier is to end the semester before going on holiday break. Proponents for the change argued that a break before finals interrupts educational continuity. They believe that students will perform better on semester finals and projects without a two week hiatus. Contrary arguments cited that in schools with multicultural populations, like ours, student family obligations often take priority during holiday times and absenteeism is rampant. Having a finals schedule between Thanksgiving and Christmas is actually setting up kids for failure.
My views are a bit more radical than both. I am a product of a public school year that was actually ten days shorter than the current 180 day calender that exists today. And comparing my high school transcript with a contemporary one, I actually took more classes, earned more credits and experienced a more diversified curricula than students do today. Are students today smarter because they are mandated to attend an extra ten days of school? I doubt it. I think that 180 days is arbitrary and useless when it comes to designing a successful educational program. Why not take public education year around? Many districts have adopted a year around calender which provides educational continuity and timely breaks as well. Hawaii has a 160 day school calender, didn ‘t our president grow up there? My point is, more time, earlier starts, longer schools days do not necessarily equal student success. Changing the numbers isn ‘t changing education, it is just rearranging the time frame for continuing to do business as usual.