Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Homework already! It still the middle of August and September is still long off in the horizon!

September and its well known Labor Day weekend which is often referred to the holiday to celebrate the unofficial end of summer may be still weeks away. However for students of many school districts around the US in the recent years August has became the New September. Some students even start at the beginning of the month when the 2012 Summer Olympics is still ongoing. While schools around the country had historically started in the first week of September for many decades, ever since the late 1990s due to public criticism that schools around the country are under performing, individual school district supervisors, under pressure to improve test scores in schools around their districts, decides to make sweeping changes to the school system and its curriculum and most of all the school calendar. For example Multi Track Year round schooling, which staggers the time children attended school throughout the year, was experimented in the 1990s and 2000s however finding that academic performance is not better but the costs were too high and facing opposition from parents with children in different schools and teaching staff the concept of year round schooling rapidly declined in popularity and many districts decides to reduce or scrap it.  However it is replaced by the "early start trend" which also started in random districts around the country back in the 1990s instead gained momentum for schools with traditional calendars. As most states often schedule standardized tests in the months of March, April, or May school districts often try to move more of their school years before that date which often means starting in the month of August instead of September and maybe ending earlier for summer or with additional non holiday breaks added in the calendar. The trend often start from Districts start by moving the start of school year from after Labor Day to start a week before usually in the last week of August. Eventually the start of the year gets moved earlier and earlier as the years go by. However the trend rapidly made enemies with businesses venues, students, parents, and even the teaching staff as everyone's summer schedule had been compromised as it was cut into by the early starting schools. There has also been no proof that  test scores or school performance improved after school systems start early actually there had been proof that test scores actually lowered in some districts that adopted the earlier start calendar as opposed to to districts nearby that did not start earlier. In Minnesota there had been a trail in the last three years in which 25 school districts begin two weeks before labor day to see if test scores in spring would increase however after three years the scores had been found to remain flat compared to before the experiment as well as districts that start after labor day.  The issue gone so far that a number of states has put into legislation that schools cannot start before a certain date which currently ranges from third week of August as in Florida  to after Labor Day as the case with Virginia, Michigan, and Minnesota. Believe it or not states often frown upon schools systems starting too early, the reason is due to the fact that it is actually tremendously expensive to operate schools in August when utility bills and other costs to operate schools are at its the highest of the year also tax revenues plummet from venues that depends on the summer holidays for profits in fact many such as aquatic parks have to shut down when school starts, with state budgets being tighter these factors becomes quite an issue. In reality starting schools earlier causes much more problems than solutions however just like knee jerk reactions leading to the plastic bag ban fad our elected representatives of our school systems still think that they are always right and that they are supreme rulers and tenaciously hangs on to this practice despite majority number protests of the population they are supposed to represent unless a higher authority, usually the state, intervenes though even if they do districts often seek waivers and are often successful. 

Lets take a look at the situation today many school systems around the country run under the one hundred eighty day, 1086 hour dual semester school year with each semester running about eighty to little more than ninety something days. One of the major problems administrators face with the tradition September to middle of June calendar is that the first semester stretches over the Christmas winter break and having exams in January which administrators claim students forget what they learned over the break. During the last fifteen years school districts begin various experiments to remedy the problem. Today districts experiment of shifting the pattern by moving the entire school year forward to make the 180 day calendar split evenly between when it starts, the December winter break, and summer. However they did not take accounts the flaws of the semester system itself which is just too long and overwhelms students with less courses down. Some schools have successfully implemented the three trimester system instead and shown success and school can start later while exams avoid conflicting with holiday breaks. However this issue is secondary for school administrators compared to main reason which is the pressure to place more days of school before the standardized tests in order to prepare students. Thats explains the reason why many school districts may start in August yet still schedule end of semester exams after Christmas break in January.  A study involving school years had revealed in 1993 about 51% of schools started before September 1 but in 1998 the figure jumped to (76%) Today you have to think more August than September for back to school as August, is now increasingly being used instead as a back to school month in school districts all around the US sometimes as earliest as the end of July Its sad because August usually the universal full month of summer vacation in much of the Northern Hemisphere. Actually in parts of the European Union its not so uncommon for employers to give workers "summer vacation" off on August as well. Now students in the US are missing out on the only month they might be able to have down time out of work and summer schools. The actual number of instructional days have not being changed [set by each state according to funding availability] instead the release date may have been moved to sometime in May instead of June or the lost days may have been made up with intersession breaks all at the individual discretion of each school district. The experiments by the school districts have not been successful according to educators and in fact the better performing school districts in the country still uses the traditional September to June schedule (not the year round or early start schedule). Overall scores of schools which started the year early actually declined instead of risen after they experienced with early starts. Today a growing number of states are actually tried to legislate school acts requiring non year round school districts to keep the year between September 1 and June 20 since the early starts school districts impose are not gaining more benefits than drawbacks and cost a fortune in state educational funding. According to a citizen organized coalition website Texans for a Traditional School Year and Tulsa World News on November 17, 2002 Tulsa Public Schools saved $500,000 in utility and other cost of operation by delaying schools from opening in mid August to after Labor Day. In Texas according to Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts electric bills alone were as much as $10 million a year higher as a result of early August starts of schools around the state. A shocking amount considering utilities in Texas are actually among the cheapest in the nation due to its generous supply of oil and natural gas. In addition to energy costs there is also the cost of back to school absenteeism which actually puts academics behind in a classroom. There are those who cannot make it back to school either for a preplanned family events but the most pressing are the migrant working students who return to their home countries such as Mexico where they often have to work until September 1. The good news is as of 2008 Texas now requires school districts receiving state funding to start no earlier than the fourth week of August and cracks down on waivers making them nearly impossible to obtain. 

If this trend continues unabated famous line teachers say for decades for which the children love to hear at the beginning of their summer vacation which is "see you in September" would become a little more than a hollywood fantasy. Believe it or not the trend as of 2012 has finally penetrated schools around hollywood as Los Angeles Unified School District finally embarks on the early start trend in 2012 starting the school year in August 15 instead of after Labor Day breaking tradition for the very first time in its history for non year round schools. For some reason the district and many surrounding districts in the city as well as neighboring cities and towns in the metropolitan area including in Orange County stayed off the early start trend kept their start dates after labor day long after districts in rest of the state and country embraced the trend. I guess its due to the abundant amusement and entertainment industry influence as they need the revenue and the day labor. In other parts of the state and country amusement parks and local recreational activities have to greatly cut their operation once school has started. However as with everywhere else it was only a matter of time before the trend penetrates the area. Surprisingly according to a Redding.com news article back in 2006 that advocate that schools in the Redding area start after Labor Day instead of early August, nine out of ten best performing school districts in California start classes after September 1. Again it seems like everything else the administrators would always think their decisions are right even if they know they are wrong and its unlikely they would lift their policies even if no improvement or even harm is reported for years and more places and administrators would be lured jump off the same bridge. Therefore its important for members of the community particularly teachers, parents, and pupils to stand up as a community to make things right. In other words take the bull by the horn and show who the representatives are really representing and correct their mistakes and find better solutions to improve education. Think of how much school funding would be stopped from going down the drain if all schools in California started after September 1 which can be used to improve education. This is especially true when the state and its school system is facing ever so extreme budget deficits. 

Here are some links to privately formed coalitions, note there are some states not listed such as savecaliforniasummers.org






save florida summers

save sc summers

Save NC Summers

Save PA Summers

save sc summers


  1. Update 2013

    Socal districts in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, which pretty much shunned or hold out the earlier start bandwagen that has been going on for the past decade in other parts of the state/country, and kept their start dates mainly after labor day appears to have finally succumbed to peer pressure from the rest of the state to move more days before the standardized tests and possibly moving the first semester to end before Christmas. Los Angeles Unified starting last year experimented moving the start date from after labor day to August 15 in order to end the term before the Christmas break. Many suburban districts also followed suit even though they never started before labor day in their history. While it can be understandable for districts with high schools which have final exams and AP tests it seems unfair for the elementary districts who do not have these to worry about. Essentially the last major dry spot in the state from the flood of early starts has now been inundated. Though I am surprised pretty much all school districts in LA and Orange counties held out against the early start trend that plagued an ever increasing number of school districts the rest of the state since 1998 until about more than a decade later. I guess the strong tourism and entertainment industry has great influences. I.e it allows Raging waters San Dimas to maintain daily operation until labor day where as amusement parks where early start is in effect has to switch to weekend only after school starts in August due to lack of attendance and park concession staff.

  2. Today is September 1 the original traditional start date of many schools in the northern hemisphere until this early start trend took over particularly in much of the US with exception of states that banned starting school earlier than September 1. Or New York