Summertime, but the livin’ ain’t easy around my house. OK, so the normal routine is more relaxed, but we’re up to our eyeballs in busy. My wife runs a short home school program throughout the summer based on Summer Bridge Activities workbooks to keep the kids’ brains engaged. We’re running kids to church activities (including Especially For Youth), band camp, Scouting activities, summer camps, swimming lessons, music lessons, service projects, and a variety of family activities.
During the summer our kids are not engaged in the standard school classroom type of learning based on the old Prussian education model. Instead, they’re engaged in entirely different types of learning activities. It requires a lot of parental dedication to give our kids these opportunities, and to tailor the various options we choose to the needs, abilities, and interests of each child. There are costs associated with these activities, and frankly, we make a number of sacrifices to make them possible.
But Governor Huntsman is proposing to limit our ability to choose these types of opportunities for our children. Hewing to the concept that the state needs more control of children and that education can be properly achieved only through the formalized Prussian-style school model, Governor Huntsman is proposing an idea that just won’t go away: year-round schooling for our kids.
Speaking to our education system’s apparent inability to adequately teach children math and science, the Governor believes that simply doing more of what we are already doing is going to improve the situation. He and his likeminded believers in the infallibility of the educatocracy point to studies showing that children in other countries that outperform our students in these core subjects often spend more time in the classroom. This is, of course, an apples and oranges comparison that fails to control for a variety of other variables, including actual mode of instruction and percentage of population actually tested.
To me, the plan once again appears to approach the issue as if schools are more important than students; that students exist to serve the needs of schools rather than vice versa. Like the Governor’s cherished all-day Kindergarten, it expands government-run day care for parents that seek to use the schools in that manner. And in the end, it will not achieve its goal of substantially improving educational outcomes.
Coming at this issue from another angle is engineer Kenneth Nielson, writing in this D-News op-ed piece. Nielson writes that the Governor’s proposal appears to have four main points: “(1) Year-round school will help teachers earn a more competitive salary; (2) Year-round school will provide better utilization of the large buildings on each school campus; (3) Year-round school is being promoted as budget neutral; and, (4) Year-round school will help students progress better, particularly in the areas of math and science.” Nielson looks at each of the four points on its own.
#1: Since teachers that spend the summer working at other jobs will have that possibility eliminated to achieve only 10 additional days of instruction, many will experience a real income decrease. We’ll be able to pat ourselves on the back that we’re paying teachers more competitively, but we will actually be harming many of them.
#2: Although we’ll use large buildings more, we will increase wear and tear, while simultaneously reducing the capacity to perform major maintenance and upgrades during non-use times. From an engineering perspective, Nielson says, “Mobilization and overhead costs of such projects will occur three times,” instead of once annually. Short-term schedules will increase premium pay to contractors. Facility costs will go up.
#3: The budget neutrality claim is bunk. Nielson asserts that “if you are operating schools and paying teachers for extra days, you will pay more. If you are operating programs during the summer, costs of logistics and support must also be added.” Some school districts have discovered that the cost of air conditioning alone for a few days during the hotter times of the year is extremely expensive.
#4: Although an “additional 10 days may be helpful to students, particularly in the areas of math and science,” it might be better to provide “10-day workshops at the end of the year” or to develop programs to lift students that need the most help.
Nielson admits that the year-round model “does keep a student in the learning mode and somewhat mitigates the problem K-12 teachers now face of spending two to three weeks at the beginning of the year getting students back to where they were when school ended previous school year.” Apparently he is unaware of conflicting studies that suggest that students in year-round schooling actually require more review when starting a new grade than students that have had a summer away from the classroom grind to refresh themselves.
My oldest son is working all summer at a Boy Scout camp. The main adult leaders that run this camp are all schoolteachers. It takes two weeks to get the camp set up and ready to run. It runs for seven weeks, and then it takes time to winterize the camp. If year-round schooling were implemented, this camp could not operate, as it is reliant on schoolteachers and high school students to function. Who is to say that a camp of this nature is a less worthy education experience than spending 10 more days in a traditional classroom?
Who is to say that the activities my wife and I carefully choose and craft for our children throughout the summer are less worthy educational experiences than 10 more days in a traditional classroom? Ah, but what about the children who don’t live in such fortuitous circumstances? OK. Let’s develop programs to help provide options for parents of those children. But let’s not force all students and teachers into a model that will limit parental choice, economically harm many schoolteachers, narrow the students’ overall education, and ultimately not be in the best interest of society.
Education is vitally important. But lifetime education is about a heck of a lot more than what you can get in a classroom. And I resent government encroachment on my right to provide extracurricular educational opportunities that I believe to be essential to my children’s development and wellbeing.