How else can we attack the disparities between our richer and poorer districts? We might start by looking further at traditional scheduling. The idea that all of America’s students should be on more or less the same schedule comes from an agrarian time when crops set the schedule. Very few districts in America today need to follow the harvest. Studies document substantial learning loss over summer vacation.
Districts with air-conditioning would benefit from spreading out the school year. Even if the school year cannot be changed, we can create shorter vacations. Four three-week vacations could be scheduled instead of the one, long summer break. For that matter, students in America’s most challenged districts would greatly benefit from a longer school year. The idea that all students should go for 180 days makes little sense. Why do ALL districts need to have approximately the same year? If the job is getting done in 180 days, fine. But if a school’s students lag behind most of their peers, then the job is not getting done.
We don’t set a time limit when mopping the kitchen. We don’t say, “Four minutes. Time to quit.” We stop when the mop has covered the floor and the dirt is gone. There is no reason our academically-challenged districts should not have a 250 day year or a 280 day year if that is the time needed to catch students up in English and mathematics. (I acknowledge the problem of financial constraints.)
Just as the school year and school day should be as long as a district can afford, even schools that cannot significantly extend the school day overall might consider mandatory after-school tutoring for students who are behind grade level. Some districts have already taken this approach, an extension of the concept of mandatory summer school for failing students. The idea that all students should have a school day of the same length is another legacy from the distant past. Why not provide needier, academically-disadvantaged students with a longer school day?
Our time constraints are highly artificial. In urban areas especially, the vast majority of our students have never visited a working farm. Many would have trouble telling a shorn sheep from a goat. It’s long past time to get off the agricultural calendar.