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The Best School Calendar is in the Eye of the Beholder

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Though school has been in session over a week now here in Kentucky, children in other parts of the country are still in camps, pools and full summer mode. Why the inconsistency?

Discussions about school calendars stir emotional debates. Parents, students, business leaders and other constituents offer mixed feedback on virtually every proposal. Some want to start after Labor Day while others want to start sooner. Some prefer a week off during October while others do not. Some want two weeks off around the winter holidays and others say that is too long. Groups have even formed under the banner "save our summers" to ensure a lengthy break when each school year ends--and met with resistance.

What must the time keepers keep in consideration?

Should the calendar be about instruction or should it be about vacations? There can be compromises but when there are conflicts, instruction should always win out. On average, students across the country attend school on a 180 day calendar. How those days are arranged impacts both instruction and vacation time. For some states which experience unpredictable winter weather and do not have adequate snow removal equipment, closing school becomes a matter of safety. This in turn makes it difficult to start later (after Labor Day) knowing that many of these snow days will need to be made up after instructional time that is critical. Schools try to get in as much instructional time as possible prior to ACT, SAT, AP, standardized testing, etc. to give each student his or her best shot at doing well. It is important to think about ways to become involved in the development of, and to advocate for strong school calendars.

Calendar keepers must also keep in mind that after a couple of weeks off, kids in elementary schools have to be re-taught routines, rules, and guidelines, resulting in lost instructional days. We often hear that we are already losing too much instructional time due to testing, so we do not need to add to that problem.

Then there are those who advocate for "year-round" school. I believe increasing the number of days that kids are with teachers can have a significant positive impact but just taking that same 180 days and rearranging them so kids go in the summer is not the to answer increased achievement. But on this, the research is inconclusive and contradictory. Some say that attending school in the summer stops the loss of learning that takes place during that two-month break while others argue that students lose learning during the two-week breaks throughout the year. And this debate doesn't even begin to address the need to increase the length of the school year to be more competitive with other countries.

If you were asked to develop the best possible calendar for the next school year what would it look like?

It is my hunch that we would receive hundreds of calendar variations. What is really interesting is that when people devise their best calendar, they often find it difficult to understand why others don't share their enthusiasm. With the large number of variations that can exist, the best possible school calendar is always seen through the eye of the beholder.

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