Memorial Day has passed and we still have about three weeks until the end of the school year. The craziness that hits the schools this time of year always reminds me that closing a school every year is such a huge waste of time and effort. Followed closely by the waste of time and effort to open it again a couple of months later. The school calendar clung to by most American schools, with its incredibly well defined start and stop points, is one of the biggest impediments to education reform and improvement.
I have a simple change that could lead to big changes in the way we conduct school. I would set up a system of ten week quarters with three week "vacations" between. During those three week periods we could get help for kids who were having problems with one or more subjects the quarter before. Or provide enrichment programs for kids eager to get ahead. Right away this beats the ritual known as summer school, which often tries to patch up the academic problems formed over the period of a year or more.
If all we did was implement this new calendar and left the old start and stop points, nothing would change, nothing would improve. However, this schedule would allow for other changes in the way that we manage teaching and learning. For example, it’s never made sense to me to say that every student learns at the same rate, one year at a time. In my Algebra I classes I’ve had students who could have learned the subject in less than a year while others could have used more time. Without the artificial notion of a start and stop to learning, students could start learning Algebra I at the same time and then shift between classes at the end of quarter, some to a faster group, some to a slower one.
I realize that this kind of a schedule would present all kinds of scheduling problems for school administrators – or at least for the ones who would want to fit the old learning structure into the new calendar. There would also be money problems since schools would have to start paying teachers as full-time employees. And that full-time status would require lots of changes in the thinking of teachers, parents and the community in general.
Although these ideas have been swimming around in my warped little brain for many years, I’ve never really taken the time to work through all the details. It would certainly take a lot of hard work, not to mention selling the idea to adults who want to see a school that looks just like the one they remember. But I would love to see a school system make the effort to radically change the structure of education starting with throwing out the anachronistic calendar and replacing it with something that says to students that learning does not start and stop every year.