Opinion: Responding to the school start order — Let summer be purposeful

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By Senator Bill Ferguson

For MarylandReporter.com

First day of school by woodleywonderworks with Flickr Creative Commons License

First day of school by woodleywonderworks with Flickr Creative Commons License

On Wednesday, Gov. Larry Hogan, with Comptroller Peter Franchot at his side, announced from Ocean City an executive order mandating all Maryland school districts start after Labor Day and end before June 15th, effective for the 2017-2018 school year. This is the same policy the Maryland General Assembly has soundly rejected for the last four years.

Unfortunately, the Governor and Comptroller must have their heads in the sand, as this likely unlawful mandate signals a clear divide from values that Marylanders traditionally cherish — the belief that we should always be focused forward to win the future, not falling backwards.

Longer not later

To begin, if we are to have a conversation about adjusting our calendar, let it not be about starting the school year later, let it be about making the year longer, richer, and more purposeful.

Let this conversation center around how we can better use summer for highly enriched learning projects that allow students to learn outside the classroom environment.

That’s what our competitor countries across the globe are focused on achieving; they’re looking to the future, not falling back into a comfortable past.

When we look around the world we see that students in South Korea spend 220 days in school. In Japan, it’s 243. Here in Maryland? Only 180.

In an era of global competitiveness we need to be talking about a longer school year, not a shorter one. Quality seat time matters. The negative impacts of longer summers for students, particularly at risk students, is well documented.

As we look towards the economy of tomorrow, we need to be focused on how to make summer an extension of learning, not merely an opportunity for generating tourism revenues.

Real costs of a short year

While Gov. Hogan and Comptroller Franchot want to tout the benefits of a post-Labor Day start time, a short school year and a long summer has real costs beyond the summer slide.

Many Maryland families are not spending their summer on the merry-go-round. They are spending it on childcare while parents work long hours at one, two, or even three jobs. Yet despite hard work, in Baltimore City 29% of a typical family’s median income is spent on child care alone.

Teachers aren’t babysitters and schools aren’t daycare, but they sure beat paying for them. A longer summer means more expenses for families and less education for kids. We might as well call it Gov. Hogan’s Summer Tax on working families.

At a time when childcare for a four-year-old is 9% more expensive than first-year college tuition in Maryland, we need to be talking about universal pre-K and wraparound enrichment, not post-Labor Day school start times.

It may be unconstitutional

Not only is Gov. Hogan’s executive order not backed by any research showing a benefit for kids, it may also be unconstitutional.

School districts around the state, including Montgomery County and Anne Arundel County, have already come out strongly against the governor’s action.

Some analysis suggests that in order to comply with the governor’s mandate, school districts will have to eliminate Spring Break entirely, or cancel all professional development days.

My colleagues and I will be pressing the Attorney General’s Office to issue a full report on the legality of these impositions on local school districts. This is clearly a case of the governor’s preferences being imposed on educational policy priorities.

If the governor is willing to offer this imposition on schools, what else is he willing to do to the detriment of our students and families?

Who could have predicted that “Open for Business” meant at the expense of our education system? Marylanders surely recognize that the governor sets a very dangerous precedent with this edict.

Political gamesmanship

In Maryland, we drive forward with innovation and bold thinking to attack complex challenges. Unfortunately, this political gamesmanship approach to real problems takes us in the opposite direction.

Gov. Hogan’s well-planned press events are not about kids, schools, or anything else substantive for that matter. They’re about politics, plain and simple. It’s no coincidence that the announcement was timed for the same day as the Comptroller’s report that this administration’s economic policies find us facing a $250 million revenue shortfall this year. Popular distractions may make good politics, but they don’t solve real problems.

If we choose to work together, Maryland can win the future. Let’s stop focusing on petty political objectives, and roll up our sleeves to figure out how best to ensure all children in Maryland can compete in a 21st Century workforce. Let’s dig in our heels and figure out how to really invest in Maryland families.

Let’s work on making universal pre-K a reality, expanding access to community college, transforming schools to compete globally, and deploying the many other evidence-based ideas that will actually lead to a stronger, brighter, and better Maryland.

Senator Bill Ferguson is a Democrat representing Baltimore City in the Maryland General Assembly; his e-mail is: bill@billforbaltimore.com

  • David Taylor

    It’s absolutely amazing the hypocrisy of Maryland Democrats. For years, we have been subjected to their political games, using gubernatorial power for purely political reasons. Now that it’s a Republican they don’t like it so much. I’m shocked, shocked I say, to see that Governor Hogan might use the power of his office for political advantage. Never mind that, starting school after Labor Day makes so much sense and it’s refreshing that he is listening to the 72% of Marylanders who are in favor of this.

  • dsafko

    I would love to join in a real discussion on the value of school and agree that we really need to start one. I’d love to start by hearing the Senator’s own discussion of his school days. Did you spend your childhood wishing you could spend more time there? Were your days full of enrichment and not enough time to learn all the things you were hoping to learn? Do you, as an adult, believe your life would have been better if you had spent more time within the school’s walls? I hear a lot of people say we should keep our children in school more, but rarely run into an adult who wishes they could have spent more time in K-12. More time in school does not equal a better education. And if we want to do better than competing countries, why do we consider just copying them?

    • Lisa Moore

      I’ve never seen a hearse with an ATM machine on top! I’ve never talked to an old or dying person and had them say that they wish they worked more, better maybe, but never more. Life is about living. A K-12 education should be about turning out good, honorable, knowledgable citizens ready for the kind of adulthood they wish to pursue.

  • Lisa Moore

    Well ,Senator Ferguson let me begin.

    1.) You are assuming that Korea and Japan have better education systems than the US because their Standardized Test scores are higher? Knowing how to take a test does NOT make one “smart” or “innovated”, it just means that one is better at taking a test. Only the children of wealthy parents in these countries get to have an education (and at a price). If you want to look at the best educational practices, then you should direct your attention to Finland. Fully funded schools with excellent, well paid teachers, NO STANDARDIZED TESTING, enriching curriculum and their students don’t start a “formal, sit at a desk type education” until they are 7 or 8 years old.

    2.) Childcare. 180 days is 180 days no matter how you want to count it. It is more difficult for parents to arrange for childcare when the schools are continually closing or have early dismissal due to the NUMEROUS Professional Days/holidays that are in the school calendar. I’m a stay at home mom and have had many neighborhood children in my home these days. And to address “brain drain” of a long summer, the current system with it’s numerous days off and early dismissals does NOT do justice by providing children with a great education either. It is counter productive to have so many days off during the school year.

    3.) Wrap around services for low income families should be available to all but this has nothing to do with a hard start/end to the school year. This is the case of political entities not fully funding services (recs/parks, libraries etc) so that they can fully fund something else. The politicians are not putting children and families first and that is shameful. Ask any low income parent what is more important to them for their children…. having access to a rec center after school/during the summer, or a new parking garage?The parents will choose the rec center, but the politicians will choose the garage. The politicians will say look at all the jobs being created (temporary) and all the income it will provide (but to who?). The jobs go away and the money rarely makes it into the fund for “wrap around services”.

    4.) OC and the Eastern Shore are part of MD, too, and deserve to also have a thriving economy. It is nothing but chicken farm, corn field, chicken farm, corn field, chicken farm, corn field….BEACH as soon as you get over the Bridges. Children work farms and teens earn money working farms or working in OC. Those living on the eastern shore have issues too, but with a hard start/end of the school year they are better able to plan and make a better life for their families.

    5.) Air Conditioning! If you want to talk money, then how much does it cost to operate schools during the hottest part of the year? Shortly after Memorial Day it gets hot and after Labor Day it starts to cool down so it seems to make sense to save on the cost of cooling large schools. But, oh wait, many city schools (as well as BaltoCo) don’t have A/C but want their students and teachers to sit in UNHEALTHY, HOT conditions for the sake of…. I don’t what?

    6.) 21st century workforce….please give me a break! No one knows what the workforce will be like in 5 years. No one can predict the future of jobs (especially this being a presidential election year). You can’t prepare CHILDREN for jobs that probably won’t be there anyway..and it’s wrong to think of children as nothing more than drones for the workforce! The idea of an education for children is to turn them into good citizens that are prepared for adulthood. Some will choose college, some will go to vocational school, some will get a job, but it is wrong to “program” children to be what you think they should be for the sake of the workforce.

    There will never be an easy answer to any of this, but what we have now just isn’t working for MOST children,families and businesses. Having some continuity will certainly make it easier for families in general and for ALL of the state of MD. Glad the Hogan/Franchot team took a stand. It’s not easy doing what’s right for MOST when the minority will always try to “roadblock” in their favor.

    • Dale McNamee

      Great letter and analysis, Lisa !

  • Parents’ Coalition

    Once again we see the Governor’s action misrepresented. The Governor did NOT change the number of days students are mandated to be in school. It is still 180 days. The Governor did not make a “short year.”

    And, under Maryland law, some Counties already have the right to go to year-round schooling. A little bit of research on the facts would go a long way in this discussion.

    • John

      A little bit of math can go a long way, as well. 1/4 of the school systems have that ability. 3/4 do not. 3/4 > 1/4. And many of those are the smaller school systems with the fewest number of students. The exceptions being PG and Montgomery counties and Baltimore City. How many of those 7 school systems are actually operating year round schools? I cannot find one single source that names one year round public school in Maryland. I’d say the concept is not a smashing success.

  • Dale McNamee

    When I went to grade and high school from 1959 to 1971, school started after Labor Day and ended in early to mid June…

    And there were no “spring breaks”, no “professional development days”, and almost no “snow days” since in Pittsburgh, PA., you went to school, snow or not… But, if a major blizzard hit, then there wouldn’t be school…

    And I was expected to keep up my studies up while off school ( weekends and holidays ) so that I was ready to progress…

    Summer was vacation and work time…

    Then, comes Labor Day…

    Regarding AC… Wasn’t there a proposal to have all year school ?

    Then, there are those who want the schools to feed 2 or 3 meals to their kids…

    Feed your children yourselves !

    Eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, butter, bread, cereals (hot and cold), milk,etc. are easily purchased and prepared…

    In closing, I went to schools that had no AC, even in college and I got a solid, serious, education… As I know many readers and posters did too.

  • Russell S. Donnelly

    When I was in my formative school years starting in the early 60’s; we began the day after Labor Day; ALWAYS and ended the first, or second, week of June !!! Only youths in the farming communities altered their calendar cycle for farming crop handling requirements. Still, the school year was only 180 days ! The shift in protocols came in the early to mid 80’s when the U.S. came in 30th place on the global education assessments of the day. That is when student education parameters were transitioned to assembly line, standardized, automated, cookie mold so called “teaching”.
    Young, supple, hungry minds were created by God to obtain a balanced, gestalt, whole life-long, education experience in the school of life; not just in a manmade classroom !!! Pressure cooking and force-feeding Corporate Machine (CM) training bite-feed blueprint job skills into our youth is NOT EDUCATION !!!
    Our youth deserve much better education than Education Concentration Camp learning experiences while growing up into the “real world”. Our youth NEED their systematic incremental learning and most importantly; THEIR BREAKS FROM EDUCATIONAL TEDIUM ! The current “race to succeed” has increasing flaws associated with said success ! AESOP SUMMED THIS OBSERVATION UP BEST IN “THE RABBIT AND THE HARE”; YET WE, AS A SPECIES, SEEM NOT TO LISTEN, LOOK UNDERSTAND AND LEARN !

  • rand

    Hey ! Do a poll and I think you will find out that most people want to start after Labor Day. People have a quality of life that they want to be enjoying and those last few days of summer are robbed by government forcing your kids into schools, cutting their last minute quality of Life Vacations. See how many Marylanders will vote for the school to start after Labor day. My guess, 80%+. Take another poll, find out how interested the kids are in school those early days and I can tell you 80% of them DO NOT want to be there. They also feel that those valuable last few days of summer have been stolen. SO who is it that wants to start school early? Those that think a quality education is a total function of time in school? I can tell you that this is not so either. A quality education is achieved as a function of the motivation of the child to learn and ability of the teachers to deliver! . Time in class is not relevant here. Want proof? Maybe the State of Maryland should spend some money to find verify and learn what everyone else knows empirically. My memories of summer are from the point in which school is out through Labor Day. My experiences during that time sometimes motivated me to get back in school and learn with new gusto,
    many kids feel they are being forced into a situation where someone made a mindless decision long ago.
    Hey Russell S. Donnelly, thanks for giving us the history lesson and great analysis. I thin you are on to something