21 Thursday Aug 2014
Starting school in the middle of summer is simply misguided. It’s not just that it implies we perhaps “don’t like our kids anymore”; it implies further we’re not liking anyone or anything else about our own personal lives either. We don’t like families who might want to spend some time together once per year. We don’t like teachers who might not want to fight the allure of attractive (or ennui of hot) weather for their kids’ attention.
But we do really like multinational corporate testing companies.
In trying to understand how this modified school calendar came to pass, at first all I could think of was that this was some sort of quasi-military solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. ‘Kids-Are-All-Failing-So-We-Must-Keep-Them-In-School-Til-They-Get-It-Right’!
Apart from the idiocy of this as a strategy (double-down on what has purportedly been not working by keeping kids in school longer) is the inconvenient little matter that this premise of failure is not actually even true.
But in asking around about the genesis of this plan I received such a defensive, hostile, stink-eye sort of response to my inquiry, it all suggests there’s a lot more than meets the eye about it.
So I let my fingers do some googling through the ether back to 2010 when the school board approved this “reform”.
Apparently in December 2010 the school board voted to go to a “college-like calendar”.
The arguments for this change all revolved around exams, specifically those scheduled for two times of the year.
Those around the new year formerly fell after the winter break and the concern was kids were studying over the holiday – this would be high school kids presumably, not the majority of our K12 students who are not even subject to final marking period exams — and there was much sympathy expressed for the loss of relaxation this schedule afforded. Conversely there was concern with subject memory loss should there have been no studying at all.
But what ever happened to a quarter system where three marking periods yearly bring finals before a winter break, before a spring break and then before a summer break? Who dictates the marking period fall after the new year break; why is that absolute? Why not just end the marking period at its logical breaking point before winter vacation?
The real issue is the end-of-year exams. Central school administrators are trying to ream an additional point or two’s worth of “improvement” from scores by stuffing in an additional week of instructional time in advance of tests with consequences that are “high stakes” for the schools and teachers and students as well. These are – were – the CST exams (school and maybe teacher-level assessment-consequences) and the CAHSEE exams (student-level assessment-consequences) and the summative assessments (teacher and student assessment-consequences).
So many tests! And this, BTW, is before even getting to the infamous Common Core State Standards (CCSS) tests (state-level assessment-consequences) of ipad- and Pearson-fame.
But it turns out the state education code mandates the instructional “lead time” for some state-consequence high stakes tests. Just shoving the start of school earlier doesn’t actually even change when those state-level tests must be administered relatively. It is unclear whether this remains relevant now that CSTs are no more – perhaps CCSS tests are not constrained by that 85%-through-the-year ed code of yore.
What is clear is that this entire revamping of millions of Angeleno’s life-schedules has been for the purpose and convenience of accommodating a testing schedule in the spring.
Our school calendar has pretzeled all our lives because it is imperative that teaching “volume” be maximized in order to show up on some set-time state test. Further it is crucial for the companies running high-stakes tests, that their huge centralized testing consortia have time to collect and process vast volumes of testing data before children disperse for the school year. Never mind that these tests are not sound measurement tools, and far from pedagogically benign are in fact malignant toward our children’s learning; we must further, still, rejigger our family life to make room for these pernicious events and their onerous grading restrictions.
There were plenty of complaints about the modified summer schedule piloted among 18 Valley schools. High temperatures, maintenance and additional personnel costs, dismay for lost summer-time were all factors among emails that ran “2-to-1 against” the early start time. And yet with no actual evidence or data reported, the district simply stated the early start was “popular with parents and students”. Personally, I have yet to meet a family, years later, that claims any degree of support for starting school mid-August. Not a one.
But it is clear that then-board president Mónica Garcia was focused on articulating what amounts, in retrospect, to a pro-corporate-testing agenda by insisting “LAUSD must embrace instructionally sound calendars that maximize environments for learning”. No regard actually ever was, or is yet, paid to pedagogy, comfort or motivation of teachers or students, or sound fiscal management in monkeying with a schedule that shifts operations to the hottest time of the year.
So essentially, two-thirds of a million Angeleno school children and their entire families, have been and are still being made to modify their whole, entire life schedules, at great social and financial expense, for the sake of multinational testing consortia that would like to conduct more and longer tests earlier in the calendar year, that must still fall within the “85%-through-the-school-year” time-frame. And to satisfy such constraints, we must all shift our life’s calendars.
If school is going to eclipse summertime, oughtn’t it to be more rather than less fun?