Rep. Craig Ford, I-Gadsden, thinks school starts too early for Alabama’s children. Should he return to the Legislature next year — he’s got a date with the voters on Nov. 6 as a candidate for the state Senate — he says he’ll try again to do something about it.
Ford says he’ll reintroduce legislation that died in committee this year barring schools from going back into session earlier than two weeks before Labor Day. That would be Aug. 20 by the present calendar.
Only one Alabama school system starts that late this year. Athens City students go back on Aug. 30, and that’s only because the system wants to begin the year in the new Athens High School building that’s getting its finishing touches.
All other systems would be affected by Ford’s legislation. For example, Gadsden City students began classes on Aug. 6, Etowah County and Attalla City students the following day, and Madison County students went back to school on Aug. 1.
Most systems are done by Memorial Day or thereabouts, meaning students and teachers get essentially two full months and some change off for the summer.
Ford contends that “hurts Alabama families” by forcing them to miss “important, quality vacation time together.” He says kids are missing out on play time and camp time, older kids are missing out on a chance to work part-time jobs and teachers are limited in the time they can devote to professional development or academic advancement.
In the past — Ford has touted this for a while — he’s noted the cost savings systems could see from not having to turn on the air conditioning at campuses or run it at full tilt for a few weeks. Others who support a later start time for schools say it will benefit the state’s tourism industry, particularly on the Gulf Coast.
A bill requiring what Ford seeks was passed by the Legislature in 2012, but wasn’t renewed in 2015. It gave local systems the flexibility to set their calendars within the prescribed parameters, but schools immediately went back to early starting times once it expired. They contend it’s the best way to meet the state mandate of 180 days of instruction or the hourly equivalent of 1,080 hours annually.
Ford says he favors maintaining instructional requirements, but the bill he introduced last year called for changing the 180 days to a flat 1,050 hours. That’s a cut, and given the fact that, according to a report this year from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, 29 percent of the state’s students don’t leave school “college and career ready” to compete in today’s globally interconnected and technology rich environment, we have a problem with reducing instructional hours for any reasons.
You might think that’s a heavy burden to put on kids, who are increasingly having to scramble for time to be kids, but it’s the reality of our present world and it’s only going to get worse. Times have changed.
That being the case, we certainly want families to have opportunities for quality time. So have they always waited until August to do so? Have kids always waited until August to go to camp or get jobs?
There can’t be any change in the start of high school football season since teams play 15 games now and need to get done before Christmas. Summer break will effectively end for players, cheerleaders and band members in late July, as always, even if classes start later. Advanced Placement students still will have summer projects to work on.
Also, what school systems turn the air conditioning off or down very much at any point during the summer? The humidity would ruin everything.
The old 12-week summer breaks had zero to do with giving kids time to play or families time to go to the beach. They were a product of Alabama’s agrarian days when kids were needed to help on family farms. The tradition and expectation has remained in place even though that need isn’t as prevalent anymore.
The current school calendars give students extended breaks at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It certainly would be easy to take those away to help start the year later. But has anybody asked the folks who like to vacation when it’s cooler and don’t like the beach — there are some, strange as it might seem in this sun- and water-worshiping state — what they think about the prospect?
A 2017 study by the Brookings Institute found that students’ achievement scores decline by the equivalent of a month’s classroom instruction over summer vacation. It’s why many systems across the country have gone to year-round school. (The notion produces shrieks from people who immediately assume it means kids being stuck in class for 52 weeks; there generally are breaks of three weeks or so each quarter and, yes, an extended break in the summer.
Ford favors instituting summer reading, math and science programs to help there, but it’s not the same, and who’s going to administer and fund those programs?
We’re certainly not anti-vacation or anti-fun, but there should be only one consideration here: Does this further the education of Alabama’s schoolchildren, and their preparation to be functioning, contributing members of society after they leave school? All other considerations are secondary if not irrelevant, and if that question can’t be answered “yes,” this doesn’t need to happen.