The Washington Times-Herald

October 19, 2013

Baby steps on the school calendar

By Mike Grant
Times Herald

---- — Officials with the Washington Community Schools are in the midst of compiling community sentiment on the idea of a balanced school calendar. The basic idea is to expand the school year and put in more days off between the beginning and end of the year. This would do a couple of things. It would provide some flexibility in scheduling. It would also cut down on the amount of reteaching some of the concepts that children lose over the long summer vacation.

In terms of improving education it is a baby step. For years we have heard educators and politicians alike profess all kinds of changes that will provide a panacea of solutions to what they call the broken schools. Schools that don’t compete internationally or aren’t knocking out the kind of graduates that can succeed in college or the workplace. The pitches that are being experimented with now in Indiana include incentive pay for teachers, vouchers, and standardized tests. I seriously suspect that in the long run none of those changes will make things better.

So, let’s try something a little more radical. Throw out the 18th century school model we are tinkering with and try one that truly fits the 21st century. The place to start would be the school calender.

Once upon a time when most kids lived on farms and were counted on to help bring in the crops and care for the livestock the idea of summers off made sense. It doesn’t now. You could probably count the number of kids actively involved in the family farm at Washington High School without taking off your shoes.

Instead of a school year that begins in August and includes 180 days of instruction through the end of May, let’s go year round. Increase the instructional days to 210 or 220. A day in school should have some educational value and 30 or 40 more days per year in class should have some impact.

This proposal would put school children in Indiana in a much more competitive position with kids from other countries that are already participating in year round classes.

This idea is bound to have plenty of detractors. There will be those who say we can’t afford it because after all everyone from school bus drivers to textbook companies would be looking to make more money from a longer school year. The travel and tourism people would hate it because it removes the long vacation. Others won’t like it because well, we just never did it that way before.

This is something obviously much larger than a single school system would be able to take on, but if we truly are serious about making our students competitive in a global society it is one that may be worth considering.

Mike Grant can be reached at mgrant@washtimesherald.com