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Tuesday Talk: Is it time for schools to extend the calendar?

September 04, 2012 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

It’s back to school for most Minnesota K-12 students today. However, some schools started earlier to get a jump on testing. Minneapolis also cut winter break for a similar reason. While the focus shouldn’t be solely on testing, more time in school is a sound idea for many reasons.

Is it time for all schools to extend the calendar?  What changes would be best for students, parents and teachers?  

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  • Chris Wilson says:

    September 4, 2012 at 7:10 am

    It is definitely time to step out of antiquated agricultural logic and make better use of the school facilities.

    I spent 4 years teaching in Australia and their system provided 3 short holidays within the year. This gave students less time to forget what they were learning and more time in a variety of seasons to travel.

  • JR says:

    September 4, 2012 at 7:26 am

    No! Do not extend the calendar. We should instead be putting effort toward helping parents and families encourage learning year-round for their children. Promote reading, writing, and doing math over breaks. Encourage parents to shut off TV and limit/take away video games for periods of time so that students do spend time reading. The break is great fmaily time, and I hate to see children lose more time with their family. But some families are not strong, and all families are stressed, so it would be good to develop programs to support and mentor families. Kind of like an ECFE for school-age kid families and there could be some flexible, reasonable way to do it—Webinars? Go To meetings?
    It is not only the school’s responsibility to teach children, and the more we push this duty off on schools, the more we fail. Learning has to happen at home, in the community, AND in the classroom. Keep parents responsible for helping their kids learn, and for parents who struggle with that, support them and help them so they can be encouragers for their children to do their best at school.

  • Herbert A. Davis, Jr. says:

    September 4, 2012 at 7:33 am

    Learning is not enhanced when both parents work outside the home. It certainly is even more difficult as a single parent who has to work outside the home.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    September 4, 2012 at 7:35 am

    You can’t fix either schools or the achievement gap without ending the racist “War on Drugs” and it’s family destroying “Prison Industrial Complex”. The harvesting of Blacks and Native Americans in Minnesota at 9 times the rate per capita as whites to fill prison cells and keep public employees working has got to end. Until you understand what Prof. Angela Davis speaks of when she talks about the shift of monies to incarceration instead of education you can not begin to understand this Racist action. Until you understand Michelle Alexanders point of view in her book, “The New Jim Crow” you will never fix what is broken and we will never be an education leader again.

  • Nancy Schmidt says:

    September 4, 2012 at 7:36 am

    if they forget in a few weeks, how do you support graduating them never to ever go back to school.? that argument therefore is just bogus. If you are actually teaching them to learn rather than the memorization and regurgitation of factoids, you need not worry about forgetting. let the kids have the hot summer off.

  • Herbert A. Davis, Jr. says:

    September 4, 2012 at 7:38 am

    I like the idea of better utilization of schools and would not have gone into teaching for the lower pay if there hadn’t been a long summer incentive where I could work to make money like the professionals.
    Four quarters with the option to take a quarter off is certainly an option worth considering.
    If we can pay administrators year around when there aren’t teachers or students, why not pay teachers year around to take classes and meet. I doubt taxpayers want to pay more for education but, I do know teachers who would jump at the chance to work another three months for extra pay!

  • Herbert A. Davis, Jr. says:

    September 4, 2012 at 7:42 am

    For many children with “comfortable homes” the current system works like a charm, they go on to college prepared and do well, often becoming professionals.

    The extended school year might be a great idea for the 50% that don’t come from “comfortable homes”.

    If the teachers from well off suburbs wanted to prove how great they are, they could take a sabbatical en masse and “save” a urban school!

  • Dennis Litfin says:

    September 4, 2012 at 8:35 am

    Chris Wilson’s comment is correct.  I live in the North Central ‘vacation’ area of Minn., and it is quite obvious if one looks around beginning the 2nd week in August, that the resorts are basically vacant with the exception of a few retirees. 
    Most of the kids are already ‘back in school’ with the various activities’ practices which are under way.  Once the kids are involved, the summer vacation period is over.
    Kids are ready to go back to school…lets get them there. 
    This holds true for the Spring also.  Once the weather gets nice (and this is happening much sooner in these recent years) kids are ready to get out and so are the parents.
    The resorts in this area could open well before Memorial Day and be busy if school would let out earlier if it begins before Labor Day.
    The basic problem is that many of our legislators are still living in the faded agricultural era and have difficultly with that word called “change”.

  • Mary says:

    September 4, 2012 at 8:46 am

    I don’t know that there is any one solution for everyone.  I do know that almost all of the parents in my special needs network watch our children slide backwards over the summer behaviorally and educationally.  They crave the structure and the resources they have during the school year and many parents and most childcare providers (licensed home providers) simply don’t have the extra resources to continue those programs.  Not sure what the solution is.  I just know that mine love school and flourish in their school environment and at home during a fully structured school year.  We also need better summer programs for schoolage children.  I grew up at home during the summer, but I take care of children in my home childcare who don’t have that option at the age of 7 and 8.  They have a structured life for 9 months and then fall into an environment with one adult and children ages infant to 12 and are craving that structure for their age but live in an environment that requires more safety retrictions for the younger children.  Not to mention middle school kids and teens roaming and playing video games all day.  So there are many many issues to address for every age from birth to 18 that need to have a good solution.  One solution won’t cover it.

  • Sandi Karnowski says:

    September 4, 2012 at 9:05 am

    I have mixed feelings on this.  I just retired through a long term medical leave of absence from 24 years of teaching in the Hopkins School District.  I am also doing day care for my second grade granddaughter.  We spent time every week day this summer doing reading, and reading comprehension, writing and math.  We did this before TV or other screens were allowed, except for math games on my iPad, or iPhone.  It is amazing what apps are available to motivate and extend learning for our kids with the use of screens.  She surely was more motivated to do these fun math games than the old flash cards. If parents take the time to set up their students’ learning during the summer, it can be done.

    I think if we could make our school year into an all year program by having 6 weeks on and 2 weeks off.  The kids would not run out of things to do during their off weeks, as they aren’t trying to fill 12 weeks. There would need to be adjustments in all arenas.  The biggest problem maybe for teachers who are trying to add to their education, as college is not set up this way for them. I was always going to school in the summer.  It gave me new ideas as well as a slight bump in pay.

    The other major problem. at least in the elementary arena is no air conditioning.  Those brick buildings cook in the summer.  Would we want to sit in as classroom at 80 degrees to try to learn? With education funding continuing to be slashed, where would this money come from? We have not caught up to our 1/3 cut of funds from two years ago when they balanced the budget on the backs of schools.  I can’t imagine the Republicans, who are now continually trying to get vouchers to kill public education, going for adding AC to schools to keep them open all year.

    It would take a lot of planning, compromise and additional funding, but it could be done.  Please remember that the teachers are professionals, so will not be adding days and weeks to the school year for free.  They need to be paid, which has to be planned for through the state legislatures use of school funds.

  • Kenneth Vreeland says:

    September 4, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Minneapolis Public Schools fought for more class time.  Teachers agreed thinking it would go into instruction to help close gaps.  The district then took daily time and rolled it into a learning cycle for teachers.  None of the extra time went into the kids.  These kinds of decisions make an even bigger log jam for needed changes.  We now have focused instruction which is code for managed curriculum where teachers do this lesson this day.  Texas anyone.  The test is not supposed to be the brass ring.



  • carl brookins says:

    September 4, 2012 at 10:17 am

    I don’t have a dog in this hunt, my daughters are well beyond school age. But I do have an interest after a career in academic counseling and teaching at the college level. There was a definite difference in level of preparation between US students and those of similar ages who had been enrolled in non-US schools. Longer school terms would be a definite upgrade. Since many school facilities are not adequately prepared for some weather extremes, there are non-academic costs to consider and everyone affected, teachers, parents and students, plus community leaders need to be included in planning the changes.

  • Louise says:

    September 4, 2012 at 11:07 am

    I would love my children to enjoy the long lazy days of summer that I enjoyed - playing made-up games with neighbor kids, biking where our bikes took us, playing house, and store and dude ranch - digging a big hole just to see how far we could dig and how many “boulders” we could displace - and yes - climbing trees.

    I would also love to spend my summers directing my children’s educational enrichment.  I love seeing my children learn by living. We have a list a mile long of things we would love to check out together.  We are a curious bunch.

    None of this has anything to with reality - which is that both my husband and I have to work full time and then some to even come close to meeting the financial needs of our family.  Our younger children spend long hours in a sub-par day care because it is clean and we can afford it.  Our older child can’t ride a bike in our neighborhood because they are constantly stolen and the neighborhood isn’t safe anyway.  She instead rides the bus to a community center a few miles away where she learned to play ping pong and that leaving any personal item unattended for even a minute will mean no longer owning it.

    As a parent I am tired of being blamed for a reality I did not create.  My husband and I are both educated.  We both work hard.  We do the best we can for our children.  We did not create a world where it requires the full-time work of two adults to scrape a family by.  We did not create a world where it is not safe for middle-school aged children to play outside without constant adult supervision. Yet somehow we head a weak family because our hard work barely takes us beyond survival and we apparently rely on schools too much.

    Long story short - summer vacation used to be a great thing - but now - for too many families - it is a nightmare.  Get rid of it. Divide vacation time into two week increments parceled throughout the year.  Plan enrichment activities during these breaks for the children of parents who can’t take time off.  Start formal education at three.  Better yet - just remove children from their parents at three - ‘cause most parents do a bad job anyway - right?  Families can visit on weekends - if the parents can get time off work.  Problem solved.

  • Sue B says:

    September 4, 2012 at 11:20 am

    We need flexibility because I don’t think there is one solution that works for everyone.  Some students who are struggling academically may need more time in school, and it should be available for those families who choose it; and some teachers and support staff may welcome the opportunity to work in the summer, but it should not be forced on everyone.  Summer school is an option for students, and maybe it needs to be beefed up and made more rigorous.  Students could be tutored in areas where they are behind grade level.  Others have trouble fitting all the required classes and the electives they want to take into a normal school day.  Maybe they could take certain classes full time for a couple of weeks in the summer.  Or maybe students could supplement their classes with some online studies in the summer.  Most Special Ed students have summer school classes available to them, at least in Minneapolis.

    I retired a year ago after working in the Minneapolis school system for 25 years, and volunteering in them for 15 years prior to that, and I personally prefer the long summer break.  People are not robots.  School is hard work.  Both staff and students need to recharge their batteries.  In high school, many students begin ‘tuning out’ when spring arrives.  Many teachers use the summer to take classes to keep up their licenses.  Without that time, they would have to take classes on nights and weekends during the school year. Others take time to travel or have some quality family time or take on a large home-improvement project.  As much as I liked being in school, I was always ready for that break.

    Many older schools buildings need repairs and maintenance.  Most large projects are scheduled for the summer so as not to disrupt classes. 

    Maybe most important is summer jobs.  My kids used summers to work and earn money for college during the summers when they were teenagers.  Not many people are willing to hire kids for jobs if they are only available to work two or three weeks at a time.  Most employers need workers during their busy summer seasons.  In Minnesota, our summers are short.  I would prefer to have time off in the summer rather than February or November.  Everyone can’t afford to take quarterly vacations to warm places.

  • Sue B says:

    September 4, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Whoa, Louise!  Just read your comment.  I feel for you.  You, and many other parents, do have a real problem, but schools can not be the ONLY solution.  They can not be expected to fix all of the problems of our society, or be used as a full-time free child-care service, AND still be able to teach our kids and prepare them for the future.

  • ChristeenStone says:

    September 4, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    I have just scanned the comments and found some great suggestions. I am from the Great depression group who watched a family of four children, and ten grandchildren and now some of my 11 great grand children go through school. I value a good education very much. I am not convinced that more days in school is the answer. My experience is that Quality of the teacher, their dedication to teach in a manner to relate to their students. I saw a lot of wonderful teachers, doing a great job and my children benefited from those. There were very few who I felt would not have done any better if we had school non-stop. Maybe there are restrictions that waste the teachers time to teach that could be eliminated. There
    have been a great many teachers in my family, three of my children were teachers, and my grandmother was a teacher, plus a number of her decedents. So I would prefer to see better use of time in school and additional help in summer school for those who need special help.

  • Louise says:

    September 4, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    The problem is Sue, the issues I mentioned and a million others involving children and families are almost never talked about beyond very small, very progressive circles as societal problems. They are talked about as parenting problems,as in the ad nauseum “where were the parents”.  Most of the time, I would argue, they are working.

    Instead of addressing societal issues and helping to make families a more stable and secure base from which to foster educational growth in children, policy makers and the public at large usually come up with “solutions” that involve removing children - well at least poor children - little by little from their families.  Longer days, more days, all summer long. Start at 5 years old - no 4 - no 3.  No help for you - the best thing for your family is for you parents to work harder - work longer.  Make a “better life” for your family.  What a noble example you’ll be setting for your children! But just remember - if ANYTHING goes wrong in your children’s lives (and how could it not) it will be on your head parent - because - You. Were. Not. There.

    And you know what - they are probably right.  I can’t be the parent I want to be when I am working long hours and am in constant fear of losing one of my jobs, or not being able to keep the utilities on - so maybe it is better for them to spend more time at school. I have reluctantly resigned myself to the fact that it IS better.  So I am sadly willing sacrifice my children’s summers for their greater good.

  • Ron Leurquin says:

    September 4, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    finally getting around to responding to the topic and all the great ideass and thoughts on here.

    Rist i need to let Louise know, she did creat the problem (not necessarily Louise herself, but past generations did).  Every time you voted you helped the problem along.  Our system created the problems and our electeds are to blame, and thus us for allowing our elected to do it.

    Sue is on track, but maybe its better to say one size/idea dose not fit all.  There is no simple fix, and we didnt get here just the past few weeks.  the problems in the education system in ths country and state are a long time in coming.

    some of it is teachers, some class sizes, some the buildings thier being taught in, some the books, some the administration, some the parents, some our lack of appreciating education more, and I could go on but would bore you all.

    I can remember back when I was in grade school a proposal was made (stuendts then didnt like it casue it made ‘summer’ shorter) of having overlapping school schedules of 10 weeks of class and 3 weeks of vacation.  Over lap these schedules so the schools are always in use.  Teachers would have the same schedule as thier stuendt group.  Families with multiple children in different schools would be albel to have all children on the same schedule so families could have vacation time together.

    Looking back I can see some good points to that idea, and some bad ones.  It better uses the facilities by using them year round, but then there is AC and maintenance issues to consider.  It overlaps schedules so many stuedns may be in same grade in smae school, but at different points in the curiculum.  Takes more teachers which may or may not be available.

    I wish things were better and simpler for children to be able to get the educations many of us recieved, but that reality went away when life stared needing 2 incomes to afford.  there is much that needs re-evaluation in our systmen and country if we want our education system to improve.

    Lets fine some comon threads of aggreement and work on those, letting the other stuff work itslef out as we accomplish what we can.  Start this November when you make your electoral choices.  Who has and will fight for our children and thier education; and who only gives it lip service if at all.

    Enough of my babbling for one day.

  • Mary Planten-Krell says:

    September 4, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    The answer to this question is “yes”, the school calendar should be extended for all students.

    The agrarian roots of our school calendar are no longer relevant for most students. We wonder why our kids are not at the top of the pile academically, yet we design a schedule that does not serve students well.  The issue is not “what’s best for teachers, staff and the community” but what’s best for our kids.  Many of us work in equally demanding jobs (non-profit human service for example) and we manage to get the professaional development we need and to find ways to renew our batteries along the way even while working year-around. 

    And then we fret about “backsliding” during the summer and try to find supplemental programs to prevent that from occuring.  As the stepmother of 2 Dutch girls, I’ve seen firsthand where we in America fall behind. Ironically, the solution seems rather simple to me.  Take full advantage of a greater portion of the year for educating our next generation.

  • Francis Lemke says:

    September 4, 2012 at 5:09 pm

        I think the current layout of the school year has been obsolete for 50 years. It is a prime example of social inertia standing in the way of doing things better. I have thought for years that two or three weeks off every three months (or so), arranged around the biggest holidays would yield large benefits for children. A 3 month summer vacation makes kids bored and allows them to really back-slide on what they learned the year before.

  • B Emmel says:

    September 5, 2012 at 12:37 am

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Overall, Minnesota students do well on college admissions tests and usually score well above average on standardized tests. The exception seems to be the inner city schools but there performance probably has more to do with poverty, poor nutrition, language barriers and a host of other issues none of which has anything to do with seat time in school.

  • Herbert A. Davis, Jr. says:

    September 5, 2012 at 8:11 am

    clearly we know enough to make this work….the problem is we don’t want to pay and will not try things that might work…testing seems easier