Camila Knowles is the mother of four, a supporter of Save Georgia Summers, and commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. In this column, she asks a question shared by many Georgia parents buying school supplies this week in 90 degree weather: Is there any compelling reason for Georgia schools to end the summer break so darn early?
Knowles maintains there is no evidence that starting the school year as early as July 31 or Aug. 1 improves academic outcomes.
By Camila Knowles
Students in more than a dozen Georgia school districts will be returning to class in July this year. You read that correctly: July. My children attend Atlanta Public Schools and will return to school Aug. 1.
Forty-eight percent of Georgia schools will be back in by the end of the first week of August. The constant refrain I hear from parents is “this is insane.” Parents’ instinctive reaction is rationally based: research shows there is no academic reason to begin the school year in the middle of summer, but there are numerous drawbacks.
Regardless of when schools begin, all Georgia public schools are required to offer students 180 instructional days, or the hourly equivalent. Getting started earlier doesn’t increase academic performance. However, it does reduce time for students to gain valuable work experience, earn much-needed money for college, makes formal summer learning difficult, creates childcare nightmares for parents, and reduces the length of time summer feeding programs are available.
This academic year, APS students will have a full week out of school in October, November, December, January, February, and April. This stop-and-go schedule robs APS students of learning opportunities outside the classroom, as many programming opportunities available during the summer simply are not offered during these week-long breaks. Additionally, it causes childcare costs to soar: many quality, low-cost child care opportunities are available during the summer but the same is not true for sporadic, week-long breaks during the school year.
Most of the states that are consistently ranked in the top 10 for student performance on the SAT, ACT and Advanced Placement tests begin the school year in late-August or early September. I challenge the notion that early-August school start dates aid in student success. I think that credit goes to our talented teachers, hardworking students, and involved parents.
Early August school start dates also reduce time high school students have for meaningful work opportunities, to experience an internship in a field of interest, or to pursue academic studies over the summer. Many students work during summers to save for college, but the value doesn’t stop there. University admissions officers say students who show a strong work history stand out in the selection process. Summer work shows dedication, maturity, and good time management skills
Research shows summer work experience also translates to the classroom. Summer work increases the likelihood a student will graduate from high school and increases non-cognitive skills such as responsibility, positive work habits, motivation, and self-confidence. Not to mention summer employment can give students a glimpse into professions they didn’t know existed.
The piecemeal breaks and vacation days in the APS calendar reduce the length of summer and, for many students, that translates into less days receiving proper nutrition. Thousands of students across our state depend on our public schools to not only provide a quality education but for nutritious meals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program provides nutritious meals to low-income families during the summer. These programs are available during the summer months, but normally, no similar programs are in place during days off during the school year – yet another unintended consequence of non-traditional school calendars.
Mid-summer school start dates are not providing any educational benefit to our children, but they are diminishing the excitement that once accompanied the start of a new school year. Let’s reconsider the school calendar and send kids to school excited and ready for another year of learning. This issue impacts such a significant number of our state’s children that I believe it worthy of our General Assembly’s study and attention. Join me in supporting the further study of the school start date issue by liking the Save Georgia Summers Facebook page and getting involved.