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It’s About Time
When to Start School Remains an Issue

Last week, Milwaukee’s year round schools began their school year. Most other schools will begin their school year on September 3rd. A state law bars public schools from beginning their school year before September 1st. The mandate has nothing to do with education but rather the tourism industry’s desire to get as many days in August for family vacations.

 Schools can request an exemption for special circumstances. Thus two MPS International Baccalaureate high schools, King and Reagan, will begin their school year on August 12th. Their rationale is that IB tests are given in spring, and students need the time to prepare. Of course, every high school in the state could now make the same claim since the state is moving to the ACT college entrance exam for graduating students, a test which is also given in spring.

Just a few years ago, former Milwaukee Superintendent William Andrekopoulos wanted to switch the entire school system to a year round schedule. Students would go to school the same number of days but with a shorter summer break and three week breaks spread throughout the year. Research showed a significant loss of learning over the long summer vacation.

But just as the Superintendent made his big push, his own research department fearlessly produced a study that questioned the wisdom of the year round schedule. It showed that many parents with children in year round schools did not send their children to school that often during the summer months. While there was less backsliding during the summer if children did attend the year round schools, there was backsliding during the three week breaks spread throughout the year. The study killed any chance of a system-wide year round schedule.

When should we start the school day? Research shows that the high school student sinternal clocks are not well suited to a 7:30 AM state time while elementary students are ready to go that early. But Milwaukee’s start times were early for high school and later for elementary students. MPS has made some adjustments to the daily schedules, but high school athletic coaches and school activity sponsors balked at making the school day run later for fear it would hurt student involvement.

How about making the school day and school year longer? A lot of citizen support the idea until they realize that it also means that school employees will have to be paid more money. Taxpayers have limits on how much more they are willing to pay.

One idea that has gotten some traction in rural dominated states is the four-day school week. The idea is that students would go to school only four days a week and each school day would be a little longer to make up for the lost time. The rationale was that one less day would save money on transportation.

School officials held their breath for fear that student achievement would take a hit. But they were shocked to find that student achievement may have actually improved. Teachers and students were more rested for the four days that they were in schools, and teachers had a three-day weekend to be better prepared for the four days that they were in school. Absenteeism actually decreased.

However, elementary parents want the five-day a week school babysitting service. The idea works better on the high school level. I have suggested that one MPS high school at least try the four-day schedule. I haven’t had any takers yet.

So mark your calendars and set your clocks. Summer vacation is ending, and it is time for another school year.

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