Back to school already?

When I was a kid, back to school meant Labor Day in early September, and for most of the U.S. before the 1990s, that was true. But no more.

Data from MDR (a school data and marketing company) shows that “…roughly 25% of schools open sometime between Aug. 1 and Aug. 15 and another 25% before Aug. 31. Though every state has a number of early and late opening schools, early openings are concentrated largely in the South (AL, GA, KY, LA, MS, TN) and Midwest (IN, MO, OK, NE) along with AZ, HI, NM and roughly 45% of California’s schools. The majority of schools in MA, MI, MN, NJ, NY, OR, VA, WA and WI open after Aug 31.” (source: Anne Wujcik)

But how did this happen? CNN answers that question here: Back to school: Why August is the new September.

  • Testing: Since most standardized testing happens at a fixed date in the spring, starting earlier gives time for more test prep, and less time after the tests to “waste”. The trend to earlier openings started in the 1990’s along with No Child Left Behind.
  • Semester breaks better aligned to holidays: Starting in August means the first semester can end before the winter holidays. There can be a longer fall break in September or October, and spring breaks that fall more cleanly in mid-semester.
  • Alignment with college calendars: Colleges tend to end the year around Memorial Day.

One other reason that CNN didn’t mention is that in locations with a large immigrant population, many families go home to celebrate Christmas and need extra time for travel and traditions. In Mexico for example, the Christmas celebrations extend to January 6. Giving families an extra week off after New Year’s makes it more likely that all students will be back in school for the start of the second semester.

While it’s a shame that once again, testing is driving educational decisions, there is no magic formula for when school should begin or end. It’s changed over time in the U.S. and will likely change in the future. Here’s a fun list of school start dates around the world.

One Reply to “Back to school already?”

  1. I’m glad the my going into 8th grader has attended “old school” schools so far that started the Thursday after Labor day. The Tuesday and Wednesday are for the teachers to prepare for the students’ arrival. Of late June and July have been packed with Choir trips, scout camps and “honors” academic programs.

    I don’t buy the Testing argument. The kids in his traditional scheduled schools test very well compared with national and regional averages. In fact, his middle school gets their standardized testing out of the way in the fall so they can get down to the business of education. Again, the kids test just fine.

    Breaks? Their breaks align directly with the religious holidays — even their Spring break, which is still tied to Easter. The semesters don’t line up, but that never mattered before.

    I can buy the College thing for high school, though. It a shame the whole school has to follow a schedule that is best for the Seniors and lose their late summer.

    August is for the laid back unstructured summer fun that kids really need before gearing up for another tough school year. My dad recently gave me a clipping from my Jr. High School newspaper that my mom had saved. It was a (very bad) poem I’d written praising my favorite late summer activity — sitting outside in the open, eating an apple and reading a book. I don’t remember writing the poem for the paper, but that summer the book was Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.

    Now my son is in the middle of his August — hiking and camping in the local hills with friends, working on the “project” Mustang, reading, drawing, hacking in dad’s shop, and mostly just hanging out — whatever and whenever. His Labor Day without homework will be spent shooting with his godfather.

    And then I think he’ll be refreshed and ready for 8th grade.

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