The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Montgomery schools need permission to free themselves from a tyrannical calendar

(Seth Perlman/AP)

AS STUDENTS head back to classrooms for the start of a new school year, many of them — notably those from historically disadvantaged groups — will have lost academic ground since the beginning of the summer break. Montgomery County officials want to do something about this loss of learning. First, though, they will need permission from the state board of education to break from the tradition — and tyranny — of a school calendar that contributes to what they call the summer slide.

After studying the issue for a year, Montgomery school officials concluded that the traditional 180-day school calendar may not meet the needs of all students, and that a new approach is needed to help those who are struggling. They have proposed an extended school year — 210 instructional days broken into quarters approximately 52 days in length — for two low-performing schools for the 2019-2020 school year. The Two Title I elementary schools, Arcola and Roscoe R. Nix, have high numbers of children from low-income families who, officials said, would benefit from additional time in the classroom rather than a prolonged lapse in instruction.

There are still details to be worked out, including concerns about employee contracts, but the basic thrust would be to start school earlier: July 8, 2019, would be the first day of school under the proposal. What officials recognize in advancing this “innovative school calendar” is that the romanticized vision of summer as a time for fun, travel and other enrichment is a myth for students who lack resources and opportunities. Experience with extended school calendars by schools that have used them have shown them to be effective in helping lift student achievement.

“We set a school calendar right now that is completely irrelevant to 95 percent of the people in this country,” said Montgomery Superintendent Jack R. Smith, decrying being stuck in a pattern that was established for a different age when most people were involved in agriculture, and children needed summers off to work on family farms. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) made it more difficult for schools to adopt more meaningful school calendars with his misguided decree that public schools not open until after Labor Day and adjourn no later than June 15. His executive order does allow the state school board to provide waivers to schools that offer a compelling justification. We can’t think of anything more compelling than giving extra help to students who need it most.

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