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May 2, 2018

Only a fool would extend school

by Arthi Thyagarajan, Sports Editor and Eric Feigen, Staff Writer
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) plan to close the ever-growing achievement gap between low and high income students with a new strategy: an extended school year. Two Silver Spring elementary schools have already extended the end of the 2018-2019 school year by five weeks. Arcola Elementary and Roscoe Nix Elementary were targeted because they have a particularly high number of students from economically disadvantaged families. The new initiative hopes to help these students boost their academic performance, but it also fails to recognize the issues of cost, effectiveness and negative attitudes that would result.

Extending the school year will lead to an increased cost to the school district. With the additional school days, MCPS would have to accomodate for more expenditures regarding air conditioning, staffing, administrative planning, utilities and transportation. According to a Winter 2010 "Education Next" article, a recent study in Minnesota projected that increasing the number of instruction school days from 175 to 200 would raise the annual cost to $750 million, an expense that proved politically and financially infeasible at the time of the proposal.
Courtesy of MCPS News

Without summer months off, students would have less time to spend with their families. Those families with summer plans may be irritated with the calendar, having fewer weeks for vacations and family time. Younger generations regardless of sex or ethnicity are socialized by their surroundings. In order to diversify youth experiences and foster creativity it is imperative that kids get to spend time away school. Unfortunately, the way U.S. education is structured limits creative thinking and reinforces teaching by the book. When children spend time at the beach, with friends, and most importantly with family, it gives them the space to innovate, think outside the box, and try new things. There is long standing precedent that summer is when the youth can let go, have fun and be kids. It is immoral to take this bonding and time of freedom away from the next generation of American students, regardless of the nuanced chances to the achievement gap.

Fostering productive environments and ensuring that students have a deep holistic understanding of what they are being taught is critical in providing quality education. Currently, Finland, Switzerland and the Netherlands lead the world in public schooling. One of the prevailing similarities in their education systems is that they value quality learning over quantity. From not assigning homework to having significantly shorter work days, the countries that are excelling in teaching don't stress strenuous long school hours. It is important to note that these countries don't face the racial inequity that systemically creates and widens achievement gap in the U.S. However, what we can learn from these successful education systems is that the quality of learning is of greater importance than how many hours or days a kid is stuck in school. The detrimental factor that kills learning and fosters cheating and academic dishonesty is the idea of standardized testing. When tests, quizzes, and papers are the sole determinants of what makes a student "smart," kids no longer care about learning and just focus on getting the "A." In order start closing the achievement gap it is imperative and that we learn from the education systems that are succeeding and implement this concept of valuing quality learning over sheer quantity. In tandem with increased upkeep cost and teacher, parent, and student blow back, extending the school to close the achievement gap just isn't viable.

The Montgomery County Board of Education takes a wide variety of opinions into account when considering impactful decisions like extending the school year. One of these underspoken subsets is what teachers think of the proposal. Being a teacher is a very difficult job, especially for those who instruct younger students. While closing the achievement gap is of paramount importance in the liberal stronghold of Montgomery County, the Board of Education has an obligation to give teachers a much deserved summer break. Surprisingly, teachers and the teachers union in Montgomery County are being unusually quiet about the matter. With few speaking out as proponents or as opposition, we must be respectful of all the work teachers put in to provide the next generation with a quality education. Summer break was created to relieve stress and provide teachers as well as students time to relax. When the studies are mixed about the effectiveness of extending school to decrease the achievement gap, it is premature to take chunks out of teachers' coveted and well deserved break.

As leaders in Montgomery County's high-performing school system are looking for ways to boost their academic success, plans to extend the school year for both middle school and high schools are being considered. According to the Washington Post, details of the plan are still uncertain, but the system implemented at the two Silver Spring elementary schools will be monitored and expanded in two to three years if results warrant such action. Before Montgomery County officials implement this extended calendar in more schools, they need to realize that additional days in school are only helpful if the quality of education is improved. As of now, it would be best to leave the length of the summer holidays just where it is.



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