Calendar compromise no win

Andrea Lerner is Director of University Honors Programs at California State University, Chico and a professor of American literature. She holds advanced degrees from Stanford and the University of Arizona. She is the mother of two sons, a fifth-grader and a seventh-grader in the CUSD.

I was relieved to see that Chico Unified School District trustees agreed to postpone the adoption of a new school calendar. Trustees stand firmly committed to adopt a single schedule, and the model they choose will affect all of us.

As an educator and parent, I oppose the proposed schedule which starts in mid-August, features weeks off in October and November and ends the first week of June.

In an effort to blend the three current models, the district may err in the way so many compromises do. In trying to offer each group something palatable, we end up with a model which doesn’t nourish anyone. Decisions of academic policy should not be based on compromises. The model we select should be pedagogically sound, and, considering our budget situation, it should be attentive to resource management. The district should simply adopt a mainstream calendar.

Every few years “new” solutions to America’s academic crisis emerge, and every few years they are revised—everything from math and language curricula to whether middle schoolers fare better in junior highs or in elementary/middle schools. Two decades ago, many schools across the nation shifted to year-round models to relieve overcrowding, or arguing that the students benefited from shorter vacation breaks. Today, test scores and other models of student learning assessment show no visible benefits from year-round education, while some even reveal a decline.

Also, the proposed calendar does not make wise use of energy resources. In Chico the costs of heating or cooling in October would be low compared to the costs of air-conditioning in the summer months. This move is inconsistent with the placing of solar panels on the roof of Little Chico Creek.

Although the district has put forward that the weeks in October and November might be used for intervention classes, the truth is that most kids in the district will sit home by themselves. Parents have geared their work schedules to traditional vacations, and community summer programs are similarly geared that way. Students whose parents have the luxury not to work might enjoy great opportunities in early October; most of Chico’s children, however, will spend an extra week as latch key kids. Moreover, many of our high school students count on the summer as a time to earn money to help support themselves or to support their college aspirations. This model cuts the amount of summer weeks and thereby carries financial implications to the area’s young people.

If we must adopt a single schedule, adopt the schedule most of us already use: the traditional school schedule which begins in late August and ends in late May.