Proposal to extend school has led to broad discussion on learning

Mr. Superintendent, how are you going to vote on the five more weeks of school question?

Last month, many newspapers reported that school superintendents were proposing to add five additional weeks to the school year. This proposal is on the Minnesota Association of School Administrators’ legislative agenda this year. That association is a professional organization comprised of over 600 members that include public and non-public superintendents; directors of special education; other central office administrators; service providers such as instructors or administrators of education administration training programs; Minnesota Department of Education staff; and education district and service cooperative leaders.
Before this proposal could become law and implemented, it would first need to find legislative authors and strong support from the Minnesota House, Senate and Governor. While many people have strong feelings on this issue, it is important to examine the factors that might be impacted by a decision to extend the school year by five weeks.
Summertime activities may have changed over the years, but there is certainly no shortage of opportunities for students and their families during the summer months. Summer school courses for adults and children usually begin the third week in June. Opportunities to attend music camps, science camps, church camps, art camps, drama camps and other types of camps are plentiful. Family vacations and long weekend trips “to the cabin” often occur during this time of year. Many of our youth now participate on some type of athletic team or squad over the summer. Add to all of these family reunions, company and church picnics, community festivals and fairs.
Despite this long list of competing summer activities and events, the proposal for five additional weeks of school has a chance to succeed. It has also served as a catalyst for conversation about our current system of education. Many questions have emerged and multiple answers have surfaced. For example, if studies show that students are able to learn more in an extended school year, why not increase the length of our school year? Setting aside the additional expense that would be incurred through increased employee cost and the likely increased use of air conditioning, there are additional factors that might impact the learning that would take place over an additional five week time period.
Is an additional five weeks truly necessary? How are we using the time and days in our current schedule? Are we maximizing time in our current school calendar for student learning? Are we willing to give up some of our long held traditions and practices in order to maximize student learning? Do alternatives to the five additional week proposal exist? If we required all education professional organizations and associations to hold their conventions and conferences outside of the current school year would this allow additional learning time to take place within the current school year and be provided by the regular professionals?
What about field trips? Doesn’t learning take place on field trips? Are all field trips tied to learning? Are there learning experiences that occur on field trips that are not measured by some standardized test? Are these experiences important for our children? Does learning take place on family trips, at the cabin, during summer school and at the various camps we send our children to?
Other countries require their students to attend school much longer each year than we do. How long are these students in school each day? What subjects do they study? Which children are allowed to attend school? What is the objective of these educational systems? Does it lead to higher test scores? Does it correlate to a country’s efficiency and economics of its mass produced products?
To what calendar would the proposed five weeks be added? In Minnesota, school districts currently have varying lengths to their school years. In some areas of the state it is important to the community and economy for school to be out-of-session from Memorial Day to Labor Day. How are these variations reconciled? What role is there for local control?
There is no end to the topics and their accompanying questions. The best thing about this proposal is that it has generated a lot of healthy discussion about what we want for our children, our schools and our community. Involvement and investment in your schools requires some knowledge of all sides of an issue. As educational topics become points of discussion in the future, make the time to learn about the multiple perspectives and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ultimately it will help lead to a better understanding of these topics and more thoughtful decision-making. While few decisions make everyone immensely happy, if we focus upon what makes a positive difference on the achievement of children, their opportunities to learn and their impact on our community and society, we will all end up winners.
As a final note to the letter writer’s question above, I don’t get to vote on whether or not to extend school by five weeks!

Questions can be e-mailed to ryskoskik@stillwater.k12.mn.us or sent on a postcard to Keith Ryskoski, Stillwater Area Public Schools, and 1875 South Greeley Street, Stillwater, MN 55082. “Talk of the District” is also a cable television program that is filmed twice a month and shown several times a week. Contact your local cable access center to find out the days/times it airs in your area. Register for Stillwater Area Public Schools E-News at www.stillwater.k12.mn.us and click on E-News.

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