It’s back-to-school season. That means social media feeds are being flooded with smiling faces and crying emojis as kiddos embark, backpack in hand, for their first day of class.
The big day snuck up on a lot of parents this year, particularly for those who still associate back-to-school with cooler weather. Once considered a fall event, many school districts are bringing kids back early. Here in Boise, students have been in school since August 21, but in some Colorado and California school districts, kids have been back since August 15 or 16.
It might sound unfair — particularly to parents who’d like more time for family vacations and road trips — but school districts have good reasons for starting the year early and ending in May. For one thing, starting classes before Labor Day gives everyone three days off at the start of the semester to catch their breath and get back in the swing of things. But that’s not the only reason kids are being called back in August.
Testing, testing — one, two, three
Much of today’s school calendar is ruled by test schedules. In the past, final exams for K-12 schools have fallen twice a calendar year — in January, after the long winter break, and in June, during the last couple weeks of school.
And while some kids take advantage of the winter break to prepare for exams, many show up after two weeks off, ill-prepared to test on material they haven’t thought about since before school let out. It’s understandable, given the number of distractions kids encounter, from holiday parties to out-of-town relatives. Many kids don’t have the focus — let alone the time — to think about test prep.
Now, thanks to an earlier start time, teachers are able to test their pupils prior to winter break. Students do better, and afterward, they get the time off they need to start the second half of the year right. Plus, finishing exams before the break gives teachers time to get grading and report cards done without feeling overwhelmed.
The case for longer mid-semester breaks
Another perk of starting school before Labor Day is many districts are able to give kids and teachers a bit more time off throughout the year, including a whole week off for Thanksgiving. Such an arrangement isn’t always easy on parents, though, especially when kids are younger and require all-day supervision.
Looking at the glass half-full, however, a shorter summer break with more week-long breaks throughout the school year brings students closer to what experts believe might be the ideal education system, according to an article from The Atlantic.
Rita Pin Ahrens, director of education policy for the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, says year-round schooling with two-week breaks each season would be most beneficial. Such a system would keep kids from regressing during summer while giving them some much-needed brain-breaks throughout the year. Ahrens also suggests giving students more flexibility with how they spend their time during the day, so those who want to intermingle online learning with in-class instruction could have the freedom to do so.
Such a plan would certainly counteract the nostalgia of summer vacation — a time filled with camp outings, long weekends in the mountains, and endless hours of slip-n-slide fun. And opposing views might wonder how soft skills learned outside the classroom would be affected. For instance, imagination, creativity, and play.