Dear Extra Credit:

What is the reason for the school holidays on June 3 and June 6?

If they are to ensure there are enough bad-weather days, why are the schools then using the days from earliest to latest (January to June) instead of latest to earliest (June to January). Also, is there any way we could start school a week earlier and get out in the second week of June?

Julia Jessee

Island Creek

Elementary School parent

In an earlier Extra Credit, I explained that state law sets the start date, due to the influence of the travel and resort industry and the many families who like to be away at the end of August.

As for June 3 and June 6, Fairfax County, in its admirable quest to be above average in everything, schedules 183 days of instruction, even though Virginia requires only 180. If the snow falls too thickly and too often, those three extra days are gone and we need some extras -- thus the otherwise seemingly meaningless June 3 and June 6 holidays.

Make-up days are scheduled as early as possible to help students catch up with the material they missed.

"This is especially important to assure instructional time has not been lost before student testing begins," school system spokesman Paul Regnier said.

If there are no snow days, June 3 and June 6 become student vacation days, and why not? June 6 is D-Day, something to remember. And June 3 is important to those who celebrate the birth of Confederate President Jefferson Davis or the death of Billie Joe McAllister, who jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge in the famous Bobbie Gentry song that, appropriately enough, came out in 1967, the year I volunteered for the draft.

A Council's Agenda

Dear Extra Credit:

In the Oct. 21 column, you made reference to a group called the National Council on Teacher Quality, which gave Virginia, among other states, an F on its teacher quality standards.

Who formed this group? What areas of expertise are the members drawn from? Having taught in Fairfax County at all levels, I have never met a teacher who only had "two classes" in their subject matter.

Where did this group get the information that that is all it takes to prove subject matter knowledge? At the high school level, it requires at least a major in the subject, with specific courses in most cases.

Suzanne Richardson

Teacher, Woodson Center

Glasgow Middle School parent

The National Council on Teacher Quality, www.nctq.org, is a Washington-based organization that promotes reforms in teacher training and hiring, such as performance pay and alternative certification. Its president, Kate Walsh, said the founders were generally conservative education groups "but I have worked very hard to shift the organization to a nonpartisan stand." Its advisory board includes former Georgia governor Roy E. Barnes (D) and San Diego School Superintendent Alan D. Bersin, a former Clinton administration official, as well as several educational entrepreneurs and pundits.

Walsh acknowledges that most high school teachers in Virginia majored in the subjects they taught, but the regulations to which the council was referring were Virginia's new plan for dealing with those teachers, particularly middle school teachers, who do not have a major in the subjects they teach.

These new regulations (that the federal No Child Left Behind law is requiring every state to develop) allow teachers who may have had as few as two courses in their content area to be declared a "highly qualified teacher" -- a standard that the council thinks is way too low. And she points out that "Virginia still does not require its teachers to have a major even at the high school level even though most in practice do." Instead, the regulations set out various "competencies" that qualify people to teach, and unlike many states these do not explicitly include a college major in the subject being taught.

Please send your questions, along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number to Extra Credit, The Washington Post, 4020 University Dr., Suite 220, Fairfax, Va. 22030. Or send e-mail to extracredit@washpost.com.