Since entering first grade in 1957, I have spent each year of my life in an Alabama public school classroom — the first 16 years as a student and the past 31 as a teacher.
As you might imagine, when you start going to school in the days of Ozzie and Harriet and you’re still there in the days of Ozzy and Sharon you see a lot of fads come and go.
In the past five decades, I’ve also seen many education fads. However, when they were introduced no one called them fads, they were “education reforms.” In fact, one of the few constants over the years has been that our schools have been constantly “reformed.”
I’ve seen whole language, new math, ability-level tracking, open classrooms, team teaching, block schedules, modified calendars, school breakfasts, school uniforms and more.
Invariably, though, the promised impact on overall student achievement fails to materialize for a very simple reason: Learning requires effort.
When students study and teachers teach and parents support them both, then kids will perform to the best of their academic ability.
One recent “reform” that has come to our state is to require children to start back to class in July and early August. In fact, 30,000 Alabama students were in class during July last year, and only four systems had yet to begin class by Aug. 15. We’re not spending any more time in class — we’re just spreading that time out more and more.
Early school starts not only deprive our children of opportunities to participate in educational, recreational, religious and athletic programs that can only be offered during the summers — early school starts hurt working families and teachers, as well.
As a high school student, I worked in the summers to help save for my education. As a young teacher, I worked in the summers to supplement my income as I started my family. I also needed the summers to go back to school to work on advanced degrees, which helped me learn to be a better teacher and increase my salary.
As my children grew older, I was able to find a variety of programs offered during the summers for them to participate in while my wife and I worked or went to school. These options couldn’t have been made available for a few days of a fall break or a long weekend, and teachers who can readily find work in the summers can’t get a job for one short break here and another there throughout the school year.
I’m happy to say that I’m not the only one aware of this problem, and even happier that something might be done to solve it. I want to commend our legislators in Montgomery who are putting the interests of our children and teachers ahead of the preferences of administrators who want to require our kids to be in school 11 months a year.
A bill (HB372) has been introduced in the Legislature that would allow Alabama’s children to wait until Aug. 15 to return to school. That’s enough time for Alabama’s schools to complete a semester before Christmas break, and at the same time give the summers back to Alabama’s children and their families. I hope your readers will call their representatives to ask them to support this legislation.