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STEVE ERDMAN: School calendar unfriendly to families

STEVE ERDMAN: School calendar unfriendly to families

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Nebraska’s K-12 public schools operate on an academic calendar that is unfriendly to families. Over the summer months I have been considering introducing legislation next year which would standardize the academic school calendars for all of Nebraska’s K-12 public schools, making them more family friendly. So, today I would like to make the case for why this change needs to be made.

Currently, Nebraska’s K-12 public schools begin sometime in mid-August and usually end before Memorial Day. For example, in the Bayard Public School District, which is where I live, school starts on August 12 and ends on May 18. That’s 11 days before Memorial Day! This kind of calendar takes half the month of August away from families who need that time to take their summer vacations.

The families I have spoken with would prefer a K-12 academic calendar which begins in September near Labor Day and ends before Memorial Day. This is how they do it in the state of Wisconsin. For instance, the school calendar for the Alma School District in Wisconsin begins September 1, 2021 and ends May 27, 2022.

It is much easier for parents to plan around summer vacation than around a single day off in the middle of the week. Examine any public school’s calendar in Nebraska, and you will see that they have scheduled days off for students and teachers midweek which do not correspond to any federal or state holidays nor are these days reserved for in-service training. In order to accommodate for these shorter academic weeks, student learning now has to begin in mid-August.

Students need to attend school five days per week, not four. Schools are supposed to prepare students for life in the real world. When students attend school only four days per week, it gives them a false sense of how life in the real world operates.

Nebraska’s public school calendars are not family friendly. Whenever students and teachers take a midweek day off it puts an undue strain on families to have to care for their children. Working parents seldom ever have the luxury of being able to take a day off from work midweek or work from home in order to care for their children when they really ought to be working for their employer. Consequently, giving teachers the luxury of a midweek day off constitutes an undue burden for working families to have to bear.

Teacher in-service days do not need to be scheduled during the academic calendar year. Instead, teacher in-service days should be scheduled during the summer months when children are out of school. Under my plan public schools would have three full months for holding in-service days without disrupting the academic calendar or the normal five day school week. So, instead of starting student learning on August 12, let the teachers begin working on August 12.

Some may wish to argue that the current academic calendar yields better test results for learning than the old academic calendar, but this is false. The most objective metric for student learning is the ACT. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the national composite score for the ACT back in 1995, before most states changed their academic calendars, was 20.8. However, the national composite score for last year was only 20.6. Nebraska’s composite score for last year was only 19.9. So, the argument cannot be made that changing to the new academic calendar has somehow improved academic performance.

The academic situation in Nebraska is deteriorating fast. The latest test scores show that only 41 percent of high school juniors in Nebraska are proficient in reading. Reading scores have been declining for several years. For instance, the average reading score for Nebraska’s 8th grade students in 2019 was 264, but in in 2017 it was 269, and in 2002 it was 270. Could this be the result of reducing time for summer reading?

So, the time has come for school administrators and school boards to reconsider the needs of students and families when it comes to planning the academic calendar. Students and families would be much better served by an academic calendar which begins after Labor Day and ends before Memorial Day. Hopefully, this kind of legislation won’t ever be necessary.

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