Extending the school year is an intriguing idea that has initial appeal. After all, the current school calendar resembles that of our grandparents' era. It reflects the agrarian society in which youngsters were needed to help plant and harvest crops. Our information society has radically different needs. But to reshape and extend the school year would require fully air-conditioned schools, more money for teacher salaries, and considerable flexibility among parents, employers, students and school employees.
The goal of a longer school year is to improve student achievement, but I believe that other solutions hold more promise. More positive results can be obtained by a concentrated focus on better instruction. Along with improved teaching must come close monitoring of student mastery of skils in subject areas; identification of weaknesses in instruction, so specific help can be given to the teacher who needs it; improved analysis of curriculum to determine whether it meets the needs of students and achieves the goals of the school system; better working relationships between administrators and teachers, and much more involvement of parents and the community in our schools.
Young people need a good education and considerable support if they are to succeed in a complex world. But the "get tough" steps taken by a number of state legislatures and boards of education may backfire. Instead of producing higher academic achievement, these new state requirements may cause increasing numbers of students to drop out of school. Each dropout is a community failure as well as a personal failure.
Some years ago, when I was superintendent of a Massachusetts school system, I had personal experience with changing to an extended school year. It proved to be a fiasco and created bitter divisions in the community.
My preference is to continue to use the summer constructively -- by offering summer sessions and helping students find community service opportunities; by training teachers, administrators and staff members, and by creating closer relationships with parents. Parents trained in Chapter I workshops and Head Start programs to use educational materials at home have greatly improved their children's learning. Schools must reach out more to parents and enlist them as partners.