School calendar promotes 
education over convenience

School District 51 long ago abandoned the idea that the school year should begin no earlier than Labor Day, a notion based entirely on traditions, not academics.

Now the district is planning to begin the school year as early as the first week in August (the exact date for the 2013-2014 school year has not yet been set). That has some people ­— both parents and teachers — upset. It will make it harder to schedule family vacations and other activities normally undertaken during a traditional summer break, they say.

However, the idea behind the change is to better serve the educational needs of the district’s 21,000 students, not to guarantee convenience for any individuals or groups.

We believe the calendar adopted last week by the School District 51 Board of Education makes a great deal of sense and deserves community support.

A substantial amount of educational research shows that time management — effective use of the school day and school calendar — is a key component in improving academic performance, said District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz.

The research indicates that reducing the length of summer vacation aids students greatly in retaining what they learned the previous year. The extended five-day calendar the district plans to implement beginning next school year accomplishes that with the earlier start date.

Oklahoma City schools adopted a similar calendar two years ago, and saw a notable drop in absenteeism, as well as preliminary signs of academic improvement, District 51 officials said.

Under the District 51 plan, additional breaks from school are included in October and March-April. But this calendar plan, the broad framework of which was approved last week, does more than that. It also schedules additional time for intervention with students who need extra assistance, and for high-achieving students who seek more challenges.

The added intervention and enrichment time would come during fall and spring breaks and in the weeks immediately before school commences each year.

Exactly how many intervention and enrichment programs will be available, and how many students may be served, will depend on how much more money is available, either through additional state funding or from grants for which the district has submitted applications.

Schultz said the district also plans to add five days to the school calendar as more resources become available. Since millions of dollars were cut from the district’s budget in the wake of the 2008 recession, four days have been dropped from the calendar. This at a time when data show nearly all countries whose students outperform those from the United States academically have many more days of classroom time each year.

As Schultz has made clear, changing the school calendar isn’t a panacea that will suddenly make District 51 tops in academic performance. But it is one important move toward improvement. We applaud District 51 administrators and the school board for hosting public meetings to discuss calendar alternatives, and for selecting this plan.


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