By Dr. Scott Alsobrooks, PRCC
The Picayune Item
The length of the school year seems to be a hotly debated topic as of late; especially with the move that the Mississippi Legislature made to move the start date for public education back to late August. Some school districts indicated that to counteract this the district would just add time on the back end and extend the school year later into May and possibly into June. The Legislature countered this idea dictating that this countered the intent of the law. The intent of the law is to provide families with extra summer vacation time which will boost the economy of the coast and other regions via tourism.
Oddly, school districts are struggling to find ways to ensure that students still meet 180 days. It seems that some school districts might shorten other school holiday breaks (i.e. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Mardi Gras) during the school year to make up for the instructional days removed by lengthening summer break. Again, it seems that removing holiday time would undercut the intent of the legislation to some degree, in that families and school workers will not have free time during the holiday breaks to go shopping, attend cultural events and participate in other activities that contribute to the economy just like summer vacations.
This leads one to question how did our society decide that 180 days is the proper amount of instruction during the school year? Logic seems to indicate that effectually, some children might need 195 days, while some might need 165 days, to learn the same content. However, certain policy makers decry that the US economy is going to be hijacked by countries such as Japan that have a longer school year. The Japanese economy has been in, or near recession levels for a large percentage of the past two decades. Some have called the past two decades of Japan's economy the "lost decades" (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/17/japan-economy-estimate-idUSL4E8JH1TC20120817). There are other countries such as Italy and South Africa utilizing a 200 day school year. Like Japan, these countries certainly are not a threat to the US economy.
Research from the EPE Research Center indicates that 1,000 American high school students drop out every hour in the USA. Maybe a reduction in the number of days, along with applying more qualitative measures in important tasks such as basic math, reading and writing, will lead to a lower drop out rate. The tiny percentage of instructional time lost due to shortening the school year by a few days probably doesn't outweigh the learning that takes place while kids spend time with family and friends during Christmas, Thanksgiving and Mardi Gras. Instead, let’s stop all the nonsense and let those children actually be part of their families, friends and communities.
Dr. Alsobrooks currently serves as the Vice President of Economic and Community Development at Pearl River Community College.