Tourism first

Over in the trenches, Dennis Fermoyle keeps hearing that Americans want academic rigor. It’s a top priority — after vacations. The tourism industry wants long summers, so state legislators are passing laws to push back the start of school till September.

Some schools have been opening in August to get in more teaching time before state exams. California districts sometimes start earlier and lengthen the winter break, so students can go to Mexico for three or four weeks without missing classes. I think it makes more sense to teach in late June than mid-August. Why are state exams typically given in May?

Update: Miss Bennett started teaching last week in a San Jose heat wave: Temperatures at 100 degrees outside, no air conditioning, windows painted shut.

About Joanne


  1. The Texas TAKS test is given in mid-April (although it will be late April/early May this year because of the late start).

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Us air conditioning engineers want school all summer long.

  3. Our local high school, built in the early 1950s, doesn’t have air-conditioning. School let out early last week because of high temperatures.

  4. I think this argument confuses rigor with time spent in class. The two are not the same. “Ungifted and Unchallenged’ arises from this point.

    Let’s assume some students need more time in class to perform acceptably, but that many students do not need more time. Must everyone hang around, because modern educational theory decrees that everyone’s the same? I see the U.S. school system entering a pattern of more time spent in school, with ever less to show for it.

    I don’t pull my kids out of school for vacation, nor for sports camps, but I can’t buy the argument that more time in class produces more rigor. Once state exams are done, the intensity of the school day drops off. If my children had never had to watch a Disney movie in school, had never been pulled out of class for pointless assemblies, and were producing work that was more demanding than what schools used to demand, then maybe I’d buy the argument. Until public schools use the school day efficiently, though, I don’t.

  5. Standardized testing in California occurs in April, not May. April makes even less sense.

  6. Pat McGee says:

    AP testing takes place in early-mid May. Move the test back to late May. Move all those standardized tests to later in the year.

  7. On a semester systen, there is no way to finish the 1st semester before Christmas break if you start after mid August. A more legitiment debate is on how much time is spent in January bringing students back-to-speed before semester exams are reached.

  8. Darren,

    Standardized testing in CA occurs over the course of a given time-frame, of which two weeks are in May.

  9. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Why not really save money and don’t heat schools in the winter? Just bundle the little nippers up and have hot cocoa for lunch. A/C can be added. If teachers were farm animals the law would not allow working them into a sweat. I tried running a drafting operation years ago without air conditioning. The lost productivity in two weeks would have paid for the installation. Screw the abstemious, turn down the thermostat.

  10. On the topic of air conditioning, it is interesting to note that if a school is partially air conditioned, it is usually in the administrative offices.
    If the teachers and students are expected to remain productive in the heat, why not the principals and their staffs?

  11. Walter E. Wallis says:

    The excuse they gave back when I was doing schools was that the staff worked all summer long.

  12. I tried running a drafting operation years ago without air conditioning. The lost productivity in two weeks would have paid for the installation. Screw the abstemious, turn down the thermostat.

    Absolutely right.

  13. Philips Andover’s Fall term begins on September 11 and ends — including exams — on December 14. They have two six-day weeks, with classes on Saturday mornings on Sept. 29 and on Oct. 13. Thanksgiving vacation lasts a week, and there are two random no-class weekdays. Total class-days: 64.

    Winter term classes begin on January 3 and exams end on March 15, with two no-class weekdays: 53 days in class.

    Spring Term begins on March 31 — two weeks for Spring break — and ends on June 5: 49 days.

    Total class and exam days, 2007-2008: 166. Andover students spend a lot less time in class each day than any public school students do, too.

    Andover’s 5:1 student/teacher ratio, average class size of 13, and motivated students have something to do with this, I’m sure. But in public schools without those characteristics, More Of The Same is not likely to mean improvement.

  14. Robert Wright says:

    Good gosh, you’re right. The office has great air conditioning. My room doesn’t.

    For how long? 32 years.

    They work on the air conditioning and get it up and running by December and then they can’t seem to be able to shut it off. That’s when I have to wear sweaters.

    Out of my own pocket I buy fans. I tried turning in a receipt to get reimbursed and the district said, But you have air conditioning. And I said, But it doesn’t work. And they said, Well, it should. We’ll send out a repair person.

    A month later a repair person will show up and walk around on the roof while I’m trying to teach the class. After a couple days, he disappears and it still doesn’t work. So I call the district again and they say, Well, it should work. We’ll send somebody out. But we can’t pay for a fan because you’re supposed to have air conditioning.

    During the summer they spent a ton of money to replace the entire A/C system in my section of the school. Guess what? The new system doesn’t work. I had to strip down to my undershirt today and lecture over the noise of a fan–a fan I had to buy myself.

    I don’t know why I keep reporting the problem, but I do. The office told me today, We have no idea what the problem is. Fill out a work order and we’ll have somebody take a look.

    Don’t buy a fan. Trust the system.

    Didn’t Kafka write a book about this?

    Once again, I think the fundamental problem with public schools is that they’re not private.

    If we were a business, we’d be out of business.

    The air conditioning is absolutely perfect when I walk into a Target. Why? The market system.

    When I’m at Target, it matters how I feel. When I’m in my classroom, very little matters.

    It’s not right.

  15. Laws like this are what you get when you leave impt. education decisions to politicians.

  16. The problem is that parents talk out of both sides of their mouth, like Fermoyle states.
    Parents bitch about the quality of education, but don’t want to be a part of the education process. You somehow assume that if you send a kid to a system that you don’t respect, they will learn something while being in the classroom for a hour for about 185 days. Then parents don’t hold up their end of the unwritten bargain, which is that education doesn’t just stop when schools out. Then you have the balls to bitch about the market system for education, when you don’t bother putting effort into the system you already have.
    The system is broke because society does not consider education a priority. Period. Charter schools are an illusion for a small group to hide behind to “protect” their children from a system that they don’t want to put the effort behind. Charters are also nice ways for politicians to avoid telling parents “Just to let you know, you are part of the problem.”
    And by the way, I’m a huge free market guy.

  17. Here in Wisconsin, most government school districts began classes in the last couple of days. Staff meetings on Thursday, meet the students on Friday, and Gloriosky Zero, Labor Day is a paid holiday.

  18. It amuses me to hear people discussing the issue in my state who don’t seem to get that unless there are major changes in Georgia state law, the kids will be in school 180 days, no more no less. If the summer is shorter, other breaks will be longer. Nobody is really “stealing family time” as the rhetoric around here goes. They just may be thinking that you’ll go on your family vacation in June instead of August or maybe go skiing on a winter break in February.

    We do have at least one tourism-boosting state legislator who came out in favor of shortening the school year, but that’s going to be a hard sell when the test scores that allow us to compare our performance to other states come out. As much as I agree with the previous comment about about the lack of rigor being more of a problem, cutting out instructional days without any way to measure or adjust instructional rigor (do you know of one?) probably won’t improve test scores.

    And it also kind of denies the reality that many parents aren’t really interested in rigor. They want learning to be effortless, engaging, and fun. It’s nice when it can be, but it’s hard to pull off with calculus.

  19. Roger Sweeny says:

    Don’t give high stakes tests in the spring at all. Give them in the fall, before classes start, like college placement exams.

    That way you’d be testing what students have learned and remembered, not what they’ve crammed into their heads the previous months.

    Ooops. Maybe that’s a bug, not a feature.

  20. Bob Diethrich says:

    My district in Texas used to start staff training as early as August 6, starting classes as early as the 12th. Hey, in HOuston when its 100 degrees out I would rather be in an air-conditioned school building than anywhere else. On that schedule we used to get a full week at Thanksgiving, two full weeks at Christmas (three weekends YAY), and were done by Memorial Day. Now we have to start classes the fourth Monday in August. Goodbye week at Thanksgiving; so long two full weeks at Christmas; hello working into the first week in June. Oh and BTW, I teach a senior AP SEMESTER course. In order to make the first semester end at Christmas time, as opposed to the kids coming back from Christmas break for two weeks of classes and finals, we had to chop a week off of the first semester, which was already shorter than the second. In fact, our second six weeks is only five weeks. Oh and then AP tests are around the first two weeks of May so I get two weeks with bored, unmotivated seniors who have already climbed the mountain (taken their AP exams) and are counting the minutes till graduation. As I said to every Texas Legislator I could get hold of, “THANKS IDIOTS!” I hope all those bartenders and servers in Corpus can teach school because they are going to drive more of us out of the profession.

  21. Coach Brown said, “Parents bitch about the quality of education, but don’t want to be a part of the education process.” Wrong, Coach. The problem with public schools is that many parents want to be part of the education process. But, administrators and teachers say that they are the experts and they know what to do, so butt out. Experts? Really? Whole language? Learning styles? Inclusion? Self-esteem? The dozens and dozens of educational fads that have failed over the years? Sorry Coach, but you are wrong on this one. Robert is correct. The fundamental problem with public schools is that they are not private.

  22. You make the assumption that educators actually believe in all that learning style, self-esteem, whole language crap. If parents actually wanted to be a part of the process, you would push your kids harder outside of the classroom, not accept the fact that MySpace, hanging out, and trips to Cabo are more important than education.

  23. Coach,

    In a public school, I pushed my kids outside of the classroom. I complained to the teachers that my kids should not be permitted to misspell words and use inappropriate grammar, capitalization, and punctuation (whole language). I asked the teachers to make certain that my kids not be given credit for obtaining the wrong answer on a math problem (fuzzy math). I asked that they be given more difficult work because the assigned work was too easy (self esteem). I asked when they were finished with their in-class work that they be given more work instead of being told to help the slower students (inclusion). I asked when my son went to the “gifted” reading program that he be asked to read books rather than draw pictures (sharing feelings). I told the teachers that we would support them when they did all of the aforementioned activities. What was I told by the teachers and principal? That my kids needed more time to play.

    So, instead of the public schools having our really smart, hard working kids and two very willing and supportive parents, we not only pay for the public schools and but also spend many thousands of dollars for private school. No trips to MySpace. No hanging out. No trips to Cabo. Just hard work for all of us. Just what you wanted. Only it’s done in a school that appreciates parents who want to be a part of the education process and kids who work hard both inside and outside of school.

  24. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Put it in the next contract – when a classroom gets over 80, declare a mall day with free beer for the teachers.

  25. Then you need to be commended because you are a real teacher’s dream. However, you don’t reflect how society feels about education. You are in the minority. If the general public actually worked as hard as you do, we could fix the system we have. Good adminstrators would be hired, bad teachers would be fired, and kids would have an academic environment in which to succeed.

    Don’t you think that if you (and others) are spending thousands of dollars on an education system that is broke, then the scream should be ear-splitting to fix it? It’s not, that’s the problem. People bitch and moan, don’t support education, and open charters.

  26. > People bitch and moan, don’t support education, and open charters.

    What do you expect? Parents don’t come up to the standards you set for them so naturally they bitch, moan, don’t support education and open charter schools.

    I think there was a Twilight Zone episode that had a plot along those lines.

  27. After a couple days, he disappears and it still doesn’t work. So I call the district again and they say, Well, it should work. We’ll send somebody out. But we can’t pay for a fan because you’re supposed to have air conditioning.

  28. I’ve been out of town since early Friday morning, so it looks like I missed out on all the action. I do want to re-emphasize that I think the heat is a very legitimate issue when it comes to deciding when the school year should begin and end. In the USA Today article about the states altering the school year, that wasn’t even mentioned.

  29. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Lest we forget, the failure of our energy systems to keeep track of our needs is not some natural disaster, it is the judgement of our betters that we are not deserving of the benefits of modern society, and therefore maintaining adequate generating and transmission , like adequate highways, is somehow pandering to some illicite lust.

  30. Some observations:

    I don’t think moving the testing back will particularly reduce the incentive to start school early. The teachers and administrators will still want all the hours they can get before the testing begins.

    The way to eliminate testing pressure as a reason to start school early is to give two rounds of tests: one a week or two into the school year and one near the end. That has other benefits for measuring class effectiveness.

    The original justification for summer break – the children’s labor was needed on the farm – has largely disappeared. Year round schooling has been used to get more use out of school buildings. At one level it seems wasteful to leave a valuable asset, the school buildings, idle for a quarter of the year.

    The air conditioning justification is reasonable. It is somewhat shocking since A/C is not exactly new technology. With all the trillions spent on education over the years, isn’t it time this particular problem is solved? Robert Wright’s tale of administrative incompetence, though, is discouraging.

  31. Walter E. Wallis says:

    What if every administrator had to teach one daily class?

  32. To get back to the original point, in Nevada County, California the schools do start in mid-August. But, because that would give them too many school days, they have a week or so of vacation in October.

    This makes sense, how?

    It is apparently traced back to a time when the educrats were panicked by rising enrollment, and was somehow part of a move to prepare for year-round school.

    Now, of course, the panic is about declining enrollment.

    I don’t see much connection to standardized testing.

  33. crypticlife says:

    I’d point out, Coach Brown, that Dennis didn’t say “parents talk out of both sides of their mouth” — what he said is “America doesn’t really put that high a priority on a rigorous education” (both paraphrases). The tourism industry well may not be guided by parents.

    I’d also point out the growth of commercial tutoring and test-prep companies. Parents are giving up their cash for these things.

    I’d point out the lack of input parents have into anything regarding the schools. I’ve been involved in situations where school boards openly violated the law in defiance of parents, only backing down when legal action was threatened AND the specific statutes involved were faxed to the BoE office. And there was a lawyer on the Board. I have seen situations where parents behaved unreasonably, but I have never seen one where they had a great deal of power.

    Parents have no control of curriculum. They have no control of the hiring or firing of teachers, or the length of the school day. Parents have no involvement in the negotiations over the contracts with teachers’ unions, or what measures or standards are used to determine if a teacher is adequate. In many places, they don’t have control over which teacher their child gets, and when they agitate for it they often get flack about how the school can’t be expected to accommodate them.