Opinion: Next week is too early to go back to school. Bring back summer.

Buses are lining up to pick up students next week. Some Georgia schools resume Monday. (AJC File)

Camila Knowles is the mother of four, a supporter of Save Georgia Summers, and commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. In this column, she asks a question shared by many Georgia parents buying school supplies this week in 90 degree weather: Is there any compelling reason for Georgia schools to end the summer break so darn early?

Knowles maintains there is no evidence that starting the school year as early as July 31 or Aug. 1 improves academic outcomes.

By Camila Knowles

Students in more than a dozen Georgia school districts will be returning to class in July this year.  You read that correctly: July.  My children attend Atlanta Public Schools and will return to school Aug. 1.

Forty-eight percent of Georgia schools will be back in by the end of the first week of August.  The constant refrain I hear from parents is “this is insane.”  Parents’ instinctive reaction is rationally based: research shows there is no academic reason to begin the school year in the middle of summer, but there are numerous drawbacks.

Regardless of when schools begin, all Georgia public schools are required to offer students 180 instructional days, or the hourly equivalent. Getting started earlier doesn’t increase academic performance. However, it does reduce time for students to gain valuable work experience, earn much-needed money for college, makes formal summer learning difficult, creates childcare nightmares for parents, and reduces the length of time summer feeding programs are available.

This academic year, APS students will have a full week out of school in October, November, December, January, February, and April. This stop-and-go schedule robs APS students of learning opportunities outside the classroom, as many programming opportunities available during the summer simply are not offered during these week-long breaks.  Additionally, it causes childcare costs to soar: many quality, low-cost child care opportunities are available during the summer but the same is not true for sporadic, week-long breaks during the school year.

Camila Knowles

Most of the states that are consistently ranked in the top 10 for student performance on the SAT, ACT and Advanced Placement tests begin the school year in late-August or early September.  I challenge the notion that early-August school start dates aid in student success.  I think that credit goes to our talented teachers, hardworking students, and involved parents.

Early August school start dates also reduce time high school students have for meaningful work opportunities, to experience an internship in a field of interest, or to pursue academic studies over the summer.  Many students work during summers to save for college, but the value doesn’t stop there. University admissions officers say students who show a strong work history stand out in the selection process.  Summer work shows dedication, maturity, and good time management skills

Research shows summer work experience also translates to the classroom.  Summer work increases the likelihood a student will graduate from high school and increases non-cognitive skills such as responsibility, positive work habits, motivation, and self-confidence.  Not to mention summer employment can give students a glimpse into professions they didn’t know existed.

The piecemeal breaks and vacation days in the APS calendar reduce the length of summer and, for many students, that translates into less days receiving proper nutrition. Thousands of students across our state depend on our public schools to not only provide a quality education but for nutritious meals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program provides nutritious meals to low-income families during the summer. These programs are available during the summer months, but normally, no similar programs are in place during days off during the school year – yet another unintended consequence of non-traditional school calendars.

Mid-summer school start dates are not providing any educational benefit to our children, but they are diminishing the excitement that once accompanied the start of a new school year.  Let’s reconsider the school calendar and send kids to school excited and ready for another year of learning. This issue impacts such a significant number of our state’s children that I believe it worthy of our General Assembly’s study and attention. Join me in supporting the further study of the school start date issue by liking the Save Georgia Summers Facebook page and getting involved.

 

 

Reader Comments 0

129 comments
tomdcpa
tomdcpa

By starting school in the middle of summer they take low income kids off the hot streets into supervised air conditioning.

PopFisher
PopFisher

The Georgia public school schedule is insane.  Thank goodness my child is out of college.

Kathy
Kathy

Labor Day to Memorial Day makes sense.

Vic
Vic

When our school system (CSD) announced it was moving to a "balanced calendar" -- meaning a very abbreviated summer break and various week-long breaks -- one in September or October, one in November (Thanksgiving), a two-week "holiday" break, a week in February, and a spring break week in April -- families were told it was because the teachers demanded such a schedule and would leave for other systems that did have such a schedule if parents balked.  Not so.  The teachers and other staff all were frantic to care for their own kids.  At a meeting on the issue, I asked:  "Who among us has a cabin in the mountains (for the autumn break), a time-share in Vail for the February break, and a beach house for the spring break."  I assumed only the very higher ups in the school administration would meet this, but no -- one woman, a school parent,  said, sneeringly, "Well, WE do!"  So those of us without silver spoons clenched between our teeth can just go take a hike.  Blessedly our kid has just graduated from college.  But I pity the poor fools who are still stuck in the "system."

OldSmoky
OldSmoky

The Dumbing and Downing Rocket Science  continues. We need more instagrams, handhelds and chat areas to promote ignorance. Glad I have survived all these years from the Great Depression without one of  these hand held secondary brains. Fire away milenialls..

mkubis
mkubis

Look back at the early nineties---test scores weren't the be all and end all of education then. However, shortly thereafter, the 'powers that be' decided that the all-important test scores would be higher if students took exams before the Christmas break. That decision started the march toward school starting in early August or---heaven forbid---late July. And that's not the only problem that the focus on test scores has created---but that's another article!

mgunter
mgunter

Labor Day start close Memorial Day!

McCreanor
McCreanor

Start classes ~at Labor Day. Let kIds out mid-June. August is the second hottest month of the year, and alot more humid than late May/Early June. If nothing else, the electric bill to pay for Air Conditioning would be smaller for late May/early June than August.

Patterson612
Patterson612

These school boards are completely and totally out of control. But it won't change until voters make the change.

HotDawg
HotDawg

Crazy.

School should not start until after Labor Day.

Raaharr
Raaharr

Does anyone know why schools need so many week long breaks during the year?  Cut out the breaks, leaving only Christmas and Spring for off time.  Extending the school day by an hour would also shorten the school year considerably.

quickdigits
quickdigits

I Say Keep Them in School As Long As Possible.

1980Dawgs
1980Dawgs

Every month this school year, the students in APS will have vacation days. Several months they will have an entire week off. Know what happens in school the days leading up to vacation? Nothing. Movies, games, parties. And then the first day back is typically a wash, too. That means at least 16 days this school year that the students will be doing nothing. You can't tell me that this start-and-stop rhythm is the best academic approach for our children. 

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@1980Dawgs And during those weeks off taxpayers are paying for heat and a/c that is not being used!

BKendall
BKendall

@1980Dawgs Yes, you are using APS as a good, bad example. When I want a local good, bad example. I usually look for it it in APS, DeKalb, or Clayton.

CTATTER
CTATTER

This is actually a fight between the teachers and the high school football coaches because the coaches have less time for practice as the players have to work on true education.  Teachers win!! Ha!Ha!

L_D
L_D

@RoadScholar @CTATTER Georgia High School Association sets the requirements for when football teams are permitted to begin practices.


USMCwife7606
USMCwife7606

The reason for the early start in many states is so that high school students will take exams before Christmas, thus allowing wealthy families to take winter break vacations. There is no other justification. As a result, many park districts are losing money as they have to shut down swimming pools and park district activities because they don't have life guards or high school workers. As a former grade school teacher, i saw the early start as a real turn off for grade school students who were so hot coming in from recess, that they had no incentive to learn.

L_D
L_D

@USMCwife7606 or, families want to finish the semester before the break, so the days off are truly that - a break.  No looming assignments, no looming finals.  Just true days off.  And this extends to teachers to some extent because all grades are turned in (thus, all papers should be graded). I would bet that most teachers prefer ending the semester just prior to winter break.


Gamusicman
Gamusicman

As long as high stakes testing takes place in mid-late April, then kids will go back earlier.  There are already approx. 15-25 days of school after high stakes testing.  No incentive to increase that. 

Additionally, most teens are not working in the summer anyway.  Since 2000 teen summer employment has dropped considerably.

MtSL
MtSL

@Gamusicman Teen summer employment has also dropped because adults have these jobs.

Allen-Nancy
Allen-Nancy

We are not parents but we are appalled that children and teens are going back to school so early.  It is clearly a burden on parents and caregivers to have to seek childcare these "off" weeks throughout the year!  Buses are not air conditioned and schools often are not well cooled either.  Such makes it hard for children to learn and teachers to teach!  

Having been a student in the south much of my life, I'm confused why the start after labor day and end the last week in May no longer works??? The 180 day requirement was in existence then, too.

Raaharr
Raaharr

@Allen-Nancy Schools that started after Labor Day typically did not get out until mid June, not late May.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Raaharr @Allen-Nancy My school started the end of the 2nd or 3rd week of September. School was out the first week of June.We had a 2.5 week Christmas holiday and a Spring/Easter break for a week. That's it. (( of 100 HS students went to college. The one who didn't father died and he had to run a construction company. But that was when they taught real Math, History, Geography,English with literature, spelling, and writing, Science (Biology Chemistry and Physics and foreign languages. Now...?

independentiii
independentiii

Every thing I see (globally) points to our need for more classroom days.  What's wrong with starting early, reduce the breaks, and give our children a better education?

Teacher's 'union' opposed to giving our kids better?

dhowardporter
dhowardporter

Agree...I think the early start was because it gets so hot in early June that before the days of air conditioning, there was simply no way classrooms could be bearable so school let out in mid to late May.  With that in mind I understand state law requires students to attend school a certain number of days each year; so, doing the math, if you get out in mid-late May you pretty much have to go back in early August.  I recall that up in Michigan where I went to school in the 40s-50s , the school year started the first Wednesday after Labor Day, which is always the first Monday in September, so it would be somewhere between Sept. 3  and Sept. 9. School then let out somewhere around the middle of June.  That sure sounds like a sensible time frame nowadays with modern air conditioning

DoubleSubject
DoubleSubject

Schools waste the weeks before Christmas and the weeks before summer. The school year, and the school day is too long. But that's the American way.

LennyP
LennyP

Midsummer starts may not be good for students, but they definitely help the power company at the expense of taxpayers. Chances are much more electricity is consumed in the first half of August by schools than would be used with a school calendar used in states that make less use of school buildings at that time of year.

edugator2
edugator2

Preaching to the choir.  The obsession with getting the semester over before the Christmas break is a driving force, but many states give exams after the holiday with excellent results.  


Not that I'm a fan of Georgia's theme parks, but they'll largely be closing the second week of August.  Tourism is a major part of the economy, and our early school start is costing the state money. 


As I greet the sweaty children in August while their peers in a dozen states are enjoying lakes and beaches, I'll be dreaming of the day when Georgia accepts the reality that the warmest months of the year are July and August, regardless of climate change.  

Pam
Pam

I think there is solid evidence that reducing the length of summer vacation does boost academic scores and lowers the amount of time needed each year for review. I don't think it matters when school starts, but it does matter how long the vacation is. 

Cindy Waldrop
Cindy Waldrop

We also didn't have all the 3 day weekend holidays

Stephanie Blum Horwitz
Stephanie Blum Horwitz

The last few days before a break and the first few days after returning to class are essentially wasted time because students are not focused. Also ignored when approving periodic week long breaks is the value that a consistent routine provides. Week long vacations scattered throughout the school year wreak havoc on routine.

Donali Haselden Howell
Donali Haselden Howell

When I was growing up in Florida, we started school the day after Labor Day, attended 180 days, and were out by the first of June. Most of the schools were not air conditioned, which might have influenced the calendar. We did not get a week at Thanksgiving, nor did we get Spring Break.

Laura Berglund Weast
Laura Berglund Weast

How well I remember! Only the teachers had a fan pointing at them!\U0001f600 I don't think we thought a thing of it.

Donali Haselden Howell
Donali Haselden Howell

Yeah, sitting near the fan was a mixed blessing - you might have been cooler, but your papers would blow around!

TeacherToo
TeacherToo

I went to k-12 in Florida, taught in Texas, and for the past 20 years, in Georgia, and I have never started school after Labor Day.  In k-12, we always started school in August,and for my entire teaching career, we have always started school in August.


I love the more balanced calendar. It gives both students and teachers needed breaks throughout the school year.  I'm fortunate that my principal does not allow teachers to assign any work over the breaks.  Her policy is that the weeks off (September, November, December, and February) are vacation weeks, and thus students will not be assigned school work over vacation!

RobinW
RobinW

@TeacherToo As a teacher at a very high performing high school, I see these breaks as a  much needed stress relief for these students who are so focused on AP and honors classes. They are also excellent times to do college visits and not have to worry about missing class.

brentbag
brentbag

Murray County Schools begin after Labor Day, but still end before Memorial Day. They did this by increasing school hours, yet still meet the 180 day state req. Yes, they get their breaks and holidays.

ErnestB
ErnestB

@brentbag


Discussing adding hours to the school day will give some another thing to complain about...

brentbag
brentbag

@Gamusicman @brentbag Ya. I taught there before 9-11 happened, the Army got me and we work 24/7. From what I hear, Murray enjoys the schedule immensely.

Diane Jacobi
Diane Jacobi

This is a problem of privilege. Don't forget there are far too many children for whom school is their safe place - the place they get healthy food, the place where they have structure, the place where there is climate control, they place where there are people who genuinely care about them and how they are.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

From what I have gathered, to a large extent this early start is reaction to high school "needs."  When I was in school, we started the last week of August, and finished the semester AFTER Christmas.  It was not "too tough."  In fact, if you had actually studied and mastered the class material, it was no big deal.  You didn't "forget" what you had mastered.  In my opinion, it is a part of the dumbing down process--that student "learning" is too transient to make it through the holidays.


One other determinate seems to be high school sports.There seems to be a mandate that football end before Thanksgiving.


I would like to see us go back to a later start for school, and less frequent week-long breaks, but still be out before Memorial Day.

L_D
L_D

@Wascatlady Was that in a semester calendar or quarter calendar?  And, yes, schedules are often driven by high school needs.  Right now, MOWR is a huge driver, and I think most high school students and parents would argue they would like to start and finish both the college and high school classes on roughly the same schedule (and remember, college semesters are shorter).

cdefgmaust
cdefgmaust

Our children went 9 weeks on, 3 weeks off, consecutive sessions throughout the year in Colorado. It was a beautiful plan, engaging 4 different tracks, and utilizing the school's space better. Only three quarters of the school's total were in session at any given time. The only time the school was completely closed was for 2 weeks around July 4th, and at Christmas/New Year - for any maintenance, etc. Otherwise, there were always 3 tracks in session. You were able to choose the "track" you wanted. More students were accommodated using this system. No one complained, because the school made the effort to assist working mothers with a child care component, since the school was open anyway. The ebb and flow of knowledge the children gained, followed by the 3 weeks of family time was wonderful. We vacationed when places were not crowded. No one was ever bored.

Scottyj300
Scottyj300

I believe we should follow the rules of Michigan which is law in that state.  Start the first day after Labor Day and end the 2nd week of June.

L_D
L_D

@Scottyj300 Which does not align with the University System, nor the Technical College System, so would create a huge problem for students wishing to take advantage of Georgia's generous Move On When Ready Program.