The House Education Committee recently passed a bill that would create a school start date no earlier than August 15 for students. Rep. Craig Ford has championed this cause for a while now and his reasoning makes sense both academically and financially – and it makes sense athletically as well.
The legislation puts Alabama schoolchildren on an even playing field in the classroom and on the gridiron. It would give teachers ample time to review important test data so they could better prepare students for success. And it also would create equality in practice time allotted for high school athletes.
I applaud Rep. Ford for taking the time to study the issue and offering legislation that would help our dedicated teachers provide more fine-tuned instruction. If school districts push back the start of school to around August 15th, the Alabama Department of Education will have distributed the results of state-administered standardized tests. This past summer test results were published on August 14th – after all but five school systems statewide had started classes for the fall. Teachers could use the information to create solid game plans for the classroom, allowing them to hit the ground running when students return to school. If we expect teachers to increase standardized test scores each year, shouldn’t we give them time to study the past year’s strengths and weaknesses before the new school year begins? In sports, we study game tapes to see where we need to improve; teachers study test scores.
A school start date window would ensure all students receive about the same number of days of instruction before taking high-stakes standardized tests in the spring. In 2002, some Alabama students started school more than 30 days before their peers. How our schoolchildren perform on these tests depends on students, teachers, administrators and parents working together to reach a common goal of student achievement and improvement. These tests are used each year to compare Alabama schools to one another – shouldn’t, then, all Alabama schools begin a race of this importance from the same starting line?
Rep. Ford also pointed to data that suggested schools could save money by not cooling classrooms during the hottest part of the year. A single school district in Tulsa, Oklahoma saved around $400,000 simply by pushing the first day of school back two weeks. If an Alabama school system could save even $40,000, just think of the number of teachers that could be hired or the number of tutors the district could provide to help struggling kids. His proposal would help provide cold cash for classroom instruction as opposed to cold air for hot classrooms.
Last year, there were 33 days between the time the first school and last school in Alabama started classes. That means some high school football teams had significantly more practice time than some of their opponents. AHSAA rules say coaches can begin fall practice no earlier than August 4th. The first games can be played no earlier than August 28th. Once school begins, coaches can only call one practice a day — normally after school in the heat of the afternoon.
Professional athletes have suffered severe health setbacks, and even death, due to high temperatures and humidity during workouts. High school students in other states in recent years have actually died during practice. The longer schools wait to begin the school year, the more opportunity coaches will have to hold practice during the cooler morning and evening hours and hold chalkboard and film sessions during the heat of the day.
The rules governing high school sports were developed to ensure fairness, both on and off the field– yet when the rules were drafted, I doubt anyone anticipated that Alabama would have more than 30,000 students returning to class in July and 98 percent of its students back in the classroom by August 15th.
With schools starting much closer to the same date statewide, students who transfer between systems will be on the same track, and students all over Alabama will likely be crossing the finish line into summer at about the same time. This will help coaches in spring sports such as baseball and track schedule their seasons to wrap up before the school year ends in late May.
It’s in the best interest of the kids for Alabama to adopt a school start date window. A window that will give the teachers the time they need to prepare properly. A window that will give the kids time in the summer to get a summer job – or just enjoy being kids. And a window that will free up money from air conditioning costs to provide more classroom supplies and tutors for the students who need our help most.
Former UCLA coach, John Wooden, perhaps the greatest basketball coach in NCAA history, said, “Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.” Rep. Ford’s common-sense legislation would help give each of our student-athletes a fair and equal chance to make the most of his or her own ability – both in the classroom and on the field of play.
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