Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Counter-Point: Do Not Legislate School Start Date

Highlands High School. FTM file. 
Kentucky State Senator Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) and Sen. Chris Girdler (R-Somerset) want to sponsor legislation which would encourage all schools in Kentucky to start after Labor Day, while legally precluding them from starting before August 26th. You can find the update on the Kentucky School Boards Association website at the link. 

Thayer said he was "sick and tired" of Kentucky schools starting in early August, says business complaints, hot day bus rides driving him to seek legislative ban in 2016 session.

Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown. 

Scott Johnson, a School Board member for Fort Thomas Independent from 2007-2014, provided a counter point:

"To be clear, there are tangible, academic advantages to starting the school year relatively early/ending it relatively early, remaining in compliance with the state-mandated number of required instructional days and leaving this decision where it belongs, at the discretion of the local school administration and locally-elected school board.

Senator Thayer admits that he has taken this position based upon his own, intuitive ideas on the subject and specifically admits that he completely failed to consult with the FOUR, (4) school districts, (including Scott County) which he represents in the General Assembly.

Of course, legislate first and ask questions later, or alternatively, legislation without representation?

Based upon our review and research on this subject in the Fort Thomas District, there is no such thing as starting late and ending early. Days taken from August instruction time would either need to be added on into June or taken away from breaks which are spread throughout the school year. With Christmas Break, Spring Break, various legal holidays,election days, etc. being etched in stone, that would pretty much only leave "Professional Development" days.

Not only are these days required, they are explicitly tied to putting our best foot forward when it comes to making our teaching professionals the best that they can be at effective classroom instruction by providing them with continued education reqjuirements.

In asserting that there would be no down-side to students the education mission and an upside to students, parents and most importantly, the tourism, recreation and agriculture industries, the Senator is, by his own account, uninformed or misinformed on the fact that both state and AP academic assessment tests are administered on or by specific dates in May.

These are not worthless tests.

They provide classroom professionals with essential data in measuring each student's performance and progression in staying on track on their K-12 academic trajectory. By replacing "advanced" classes with "AP" classes, students, (and parents) are not only offered similarly challenging opportunities, but are given the chance to earn either college credit or at least college level experience while still in high school. There is real, tangible value in both of these reasons for testing.

As for the cost of pushing the end date for the school calendar into June, by having less classroom before these tests and more classroom "dead time" after these dates, we are doing a disservice to our students, (and parents) both in terms of providing accurate, diagnostic data on their academic progression and appreciably diminishing their opportunity for personal best performance in earning college credit or at least college-level experience by earning acceptable marks on AP courses.

Apparently, for Senator Thayer, there is nothing like putting education last in making uninformed decisions on drafting education policy.

Regarding saving the students from hot summer days, I can recall countless times that some of our hottest, "Indian Summer" days frequently fall AFTER Labor Day, not to mention the prospect of hot June days, so I believe that this argument side-steps what should be our priority of fostering personal best academic performance from each student.

Finally, the conversation that we SHOULD be having, (besides the obvious fiasco of SEEK which we seem to have accepted without contest, despite its glaring violation of the Kentucky Constitution) is the fact that the rest of the world, both lesser-developed and developed, provide their students with significantly more classroom instruction time on a yearly basis than we do here in the US, (up to 30 days more in some cases).

If we wish to support our students, while best preparing them and us for a competitive future in this increasingly global economy, we should be considering more days, not fewer. Let children be children? You bet! But we, as adults, especially public servants, are negligent if we do not put our best foot forward in preparing our students to put their best foot forward for the life which will follow their childhood.

Pandering to recreation, tourism and the agricultural lobbiests, (do they make campaign contributions?) constitutes cutting off our collective nose to spite our face. In so doing, we are betraying our students and our collective future.

The bottom line on this issue is that there are tangible reasons to start school relatively early in August/end on or about Memorial Day and, conversely, real harm and negligible, ambiguous prospects for benefit, by starting late / ending late."

Scott Johnson. 

6 comments:

  1. Mr. Johnson makes several worthwhile points. Perhaps he should run for a political office that would allow him to use his knowledge about public education.

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  2. Excellent point! I actually served on the Board for eight years and am proud to say that during my time on the Board we saved our priceless neighborhood schools from the consolidation chopping block, have made our way well down a $100 million path toward modernizing grossly antiquated facilities, improved already stellar academic, athletic and arts performance and improved the District's financial picture. I am also proud to have worked with some exemplary fellow Board members and to have worked with them in selecting and working with two of the most outstanding Superintendents on the planet, most recently with current Superintendent Gene Kirchner. Politics being as it is and despite the support of some 2,500 brilliant Fort Thomas residents, a plurality of voters reasoned that we should discount the value of all of these accomplishments and go, instead, in some other direction. All of this said, Fort Thomas Schools are still the center of the Universe.

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  3. In other words, he ran for re-election and lost. Brevity is it's own reward.

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    1. Yes, I lost the popularity contest to lesser qualified and considerably less diligent opponents, including a former administrator who was "encouraged" to find the door for being conspicuously ineffective, but then again, that is sometimes the nature of popular politics, even in a community with traditionally high standards. Look at the White House? Alternatively, 99% of what gets done is attributable to the 1% who actually show up. I had the highest attendance rate of any Board member. And you donated eight years, over 200 meetings, earned over 125 continuing ed hours and donated your pay to scholarships, all for our collective good, did you? Some things require more than a monosyllabic response, Mr. or Ms. Smarty Pants! Oh yeah, and anoymity is the mark of a coward.

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    2. sigh. Look at the White House? What a zinger from a (former) school board member of a city with 16,000 people! What a politician he must be!

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  4. No one is more qualified on school district funding in this state than Mr. Johnson. Sadly he lost to someone who carries some popularity I guess at the swimming pool but not a whole lot more.

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