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September school start date good for students

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 11:21 a.m. CST

My hat’s off to the opponents of September school start dates for creativity when offering explanations for starting school in early August. As a 37 year veteran teacher I can honestly say when the school year begins does not impact academic success but does negatively impact finances — which in turn reduces learning opportunities for our students.

The first claim is that early-August school start dates are required to end the first semester before the winter break. The week before the winter break is one of the most hectic of the school year. Student energy is high, focus and concentration is low. This is when it’s best to test our students? Why not let the kids enjoy all the season has to offer and come back to school refreshed and ready to review, study and then take the test?

Additionally, school districts have flexibility in scheduling instructional time, so if scheduling semester exams before the winter break is important to the local community, schools can still do it — without bringing students back to school in early August.

The second claim is we start school in early August so we can end the school year by Memorial Day because students just can’t focus after that. Maybe if they hadn’t started school in early-August they wouldn’t have problems learning after Memorial Day. Again, thanks to the flexibility schools now have in scheduling required instructional time, Iowa schools could begin the school year in September and end by Memorial Day. This would free up quality time for valuable summer remediation programs for our frustrated and struggling students while still giving them time to wind down and re-energize before school started again.

The last argument is clearly a scare tactic. The claim: early August school start dates are academically beneficial because they give our children more time to prepare for state standardized tests, national college entrance exams and Advanced Placement tests. If this logic held true Iowa should be leading the pack. But we are not. For the past decade, the majority of the schools leading the pack begin school in late-August or after Labor Day. Students in these states take national exams at the same time as Iowa students, yet outperform us consistently.

It’s time to stop taking the easy way out and spend the time and the money to figure out what our students really need. The key to education is to motivate and encourage students. Accomplishment leads to desire to stay in school.

Let’s stop grasping at straws by trying calendar trends and adopt economically responsible school calendars that will ensure tax payer money is spent on education — not scheduling. August is the most expensive time to cool our schools. We cannot continue to allow taxpayer dollars to blow out the window in higher cooling costs when we have students sitting in classrooms throughout the state frustrated and struggling with no tutors available during the day to help them. This is not right and as Iowans we need to stand up and demand traditional calendars and personalized learning for our children.

John Carle taught in Iowa schools and coached for 37 years and is now an active supporter of Save Iowa Summers, a grassroots coalition supporting a traditional school calendar. More information at ]www.SaveIowaSummers.org

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