The Gov & Comptroller are Wrong: Schools Should Not Start After Labor Day
On August 31, the Governor stood with the Comptroller and announced that beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, no school would be able to start prior to Labor Day, and all schools must end by June 15. I disagree strongly with this action, and believe it is moving away from where we should be going – year-round school. Not only will this action not help our state – it will hurt our most vulnerable families and create additional barriers to success for many working parents. In fact, so few school districts think it’s a good idea that only one school district in the entire state does it right now – Worcester County, where Ocean City is located. And, in other nearby areas like D.C., public schools are moving to year-round schedules. (Anne Arundel Board of Education has released this press release about the matter: http://www.aacps.org/calendar.pdf).
Working parents pay the consequences. Although initially many Marylanders may think this idea sounds good for families, it is anything but. For working parents, summer can be a devastatingly difficult time. The average cost of summer camp in Maryland is $304/week, $500-1,000/week for specialty camps, ad $690/week for overnight camps. This type of expenditure is simply not possible for many working families around the state – in every county. Thus, self-care for 6-12 year olds increases during the summer months when kids are left alone or with an older sibling or neighbor while parents go to work. Often older adults may remember a time when they started after Labor Day – and that was the case for some of America’s history. During that period, however, almost every child had one parent at home and one parent working. That is simply not the case today when most families have two parents working.
Maryland kids need school meals. Over 403,000 students in Maryland schools (72,000 in Baltimore City) receive free or reduced-price meals – including 86% of the students in Baltimore City schools. For many students, these meals are their only full meals of the day. Despite resource centers and soup kitchens open during the summer, for many students the summer months are not full of fun – they are full of hunger pangs. According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), only 17.5 of every 100 low-income students nationwide received Summer Nutrition who received free or reduced price lunch during the 2006-2007 school year (Food Research and Action Council, 2008).
Summer Slide is Real. The few extra dollars spent at the Jolly Roger (instead of elsewhere in Maryland) would mean huge academic losses for our most vulnerable students. Every summer, low-income youth lose two to three months in reading while their higher-income peers make gains. Most youth also lose two months of math skills in the summer. As was reported recently on WYPR, reading and math losses add up. By 5th grade, summer learning loss can leave low-income students almost 3 years behind their peers. As reported in a Hopkins study, two-thirds of the ninth grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years; nearly one-third of the gap is already present when children begin school. Early summer learning losses have later life consequences, including high school curriculum placement, whether kids drop out of high school, and whether they attend college.
Educational Decisions Require Educational Analysis. The bottom line is that when we are shaping educational policy in our state, we should focus on educational studies – not economic development concerns. It is unbelievable to me that our Governor and Comptroller would willingly institute a policy change that will increase the summer learning loss and lead to more hungry students and more stressed working parents. And yet, that is what Gov. Hogan plans to do. D.C. Public Schools are moving in the right direction – 10 traditional public schools will become basically year-round schools starting this year. Maryland should start moving forward toward year-round schools as well. And, at the very least, Gov. Hogan should retain the status quo, if nothing else, and leave the decision where it has always been – with local school districts.
(I commend the Sun for their strong editorial on this issue: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/editorial/bs-ed-first-day-20160830-story.html).
(Edited, 9/1/16 to reflect the press conference)