Sunday, February 25, 2007
Establishing a school calendar is one of the most challenging tasks facing the Steamboat Springs School Board. There are so many differing needs that it's not possible to accommodate them all.
But there is one way the board can make sure it is right - adopt a calendar that best meets the educational needs of students and tell the grown-ups to adjust.
The issue facing the board is proposed calendars that start earlier and end later with longer breaks during the year. The District Accountability Committee has proposed starting the 2007-08 school year on Aug. 22 and ending it June 6. The proposed 2008-09 calendar is even longer - starting on Aug. 21 and ending on June 9.
The calendars would feature a full week off at Thanksgiving, two full weeks at Christmas, a week in February for Blues Break and a week in April for spring break. The Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks are longer than normal.
The School Board reacted with some skepticism to the calendars. Board members Denise Connelly and John DeVincentis worried the schedules would burden parents in terms of child-care and families whose livelihoods are tied to Steamboat's tourism economy. School Board members Jeff Troeger and Jerry Kozatch questioned the need for the weeklong Blues Break in February.
The board members' concerns all are valid, and they are right to ask for more public input before setting the calendar. But long-term, we think the proposed calendars are headed in the right direction.
There are efforts around the country to force school districts to adopt calendars that start after Labor Day and end before Memorial Day. But those efforts have nothing to do with student achievement and everything to do with maximizing summer tourism dollars.
The traditional school calendar was developed to match the cycles of agricultural production. In an era when we no longer need kids to be in the fields, why are we still clinging to the notion of long summer breaks? Research shows the longer the summer break for students, the more time must be spent at the start of the school year reviewing material covered the previous year. Also, anecdotally, the days leading into holiday breaks - the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving for example - are poorly attended and among the least productive school days of the year.
It makes sense, in terms of student achievement, to shrink time off in the summer and start holiday breaks on the preceding weekend.
There is a big picture here. In an increasingly global marketplace, our graduates have to be prepared to compete with doctors, engineers, scientists, mathematicians etc. from countries such as India and China with huge populations and intensely focused education systems. In such a world, we can't afford to make education decisions based on what's most convenient for adults.
Steamboat's school calendar isn't going to shift the global education landscape. But the School Board can't go wrong by picking the calendar that works best for kids.