Next week the year in Fairfax County1 comes to an end, with students beginning a nine week or so summer break. This will be the first time in many, many years that I will not be directly involved in closing schools for the year.
And I have absolutely no feelings of loss or nostalgia. None. I will not miss it. At all.
The whole process of closing schools in the spring (around here it’s more like early summer) and opening them again a few months later always seemed like a huge waste of time, money, opportunity, effort – whatever you got. In fact, I suspect most staff in the high schools I worked with have been packing up and doing a lot of reviewing for final exams since standardized testing ended.
But it’s not all about those inefficiencies. The traditional open-in-September-close-in-June calendar (plus or minus a month or so) used in most American K12 schools reinforces several very bad educational practices that need to go. Starting with the concept that knowledge comes neatly packaged in 180 day chunks, and that kids also advance in their learning uniformly over those same 180 days.
Now I’m not one of those who believe we need a longer school year or that more time in the classroom will magically fix all education problems. Instead I’m suggesting there are many opportunities that would come from spreading the time we have more evenly. Something like ten weeks in school with three week breaks.
That approach would allow changes like more flexibility in scheduling and grouping students by factors other than age. The revised calendar could also lead to faster remediation for kids who need it (as opposed to pushing it off to an almost equally worthless summer school) with less “learning loss” from excessively long breaks. Plus other advantages like regular time for professional development.
Yes, I know this idea won’t be popular with those parents and others who consider the summer break as a tradition passed down on tablets (don’t believe that origin myth). Or the tourist industry who count on a large audience for those few months. Everyone will adjust.
However, if American schools are ever going to progress from the 1950’s, Leave it to Beaver model to one more suited for the age of ubiquitous information and instant communication, the traditional calendar is one of the first things that has to go.