Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Reiboldt offers thoughts on how much time children should spend in school
Across our state this past week school bells were ringing out, signaling the start of another school year. At the same time, the Missouri State Fair opened its gates to the public for its yearly festivities. The fair is a showcase of Missouri’s youth and agriculture; but among lawmakers, it re-opened the ongoing debate as to when our state’s schools should begin their fall session. The tourism industry—including State Fair supporters—advocate for a later start date, but some in the educational world are pushing for an earlier date or even year-round school. Locally, constituents are calling and questioning why schools are seemingly starting earlier and earlier each year. On both sides of this issue, there are numerous pros and cons needing to be considered.
Each fall when school starts, I am reminded of my own school days when we began around Labor Day. I know that things are so different today, but I believe the main reason we started our school around the beginning of September was because we did not have air conditioning and classrooms would be stifling hot. Starting around Labor Day meant the days were beginning to get shorter and they were turning cooler. Most schools did not have air conditioning and beginning the school year in early to mid-August just wasn’t practical. Also, a large percentage of farm work was finished by Labor Day, and mid-May was when schools were out so that young people could help with spring planting.
Another reason for schools starting earlier today is that state governments across our nation are standardizing the number of days students should be in school in any calendar year. Many states mandated longer school years and the federal government, with initiatives like No Child Left Behind, mandated even longer school years. In Missouri we require 174 days of instruction or 1,044 hours. Half days are included in the 174 days as long as the total number of hours of instruction are at least 1,044. A majority of states require 180 days of instruction, and in 2013 Governor Nixon tried to increase Missouri’s total number of days of instruction to 180, but it didn’t materialize. One of the reasons was because of the uncertainty of the additional cost of the added days.
Discussion in the General Assembly is that perhaps we should consider lengthening the individual school days instead of adding more. Also discussed is lengthening the days and shortening the week. One advocacy group wanting a more “traditional” school year points out that the shorter summer may deprive students who have summer jobs of more days in which to work, reduce the number of days available for family vacations, and result in lower attendance the first couple of weeks of school. When most districts are working to achieve the highest possible daily attendance, this can pose a very real problem. Because of the State Fair and the need for some young people to be in attendance there, those students may be given an attendance waiver in order that they may exhibit projects and show livestock.
Most likely discussion will continue as to the pros and cons of the number of days in a school year and the starting date for Missouri. However, whatever your preference on school year length or start time, one thing we can all agree on is that now that school is back in session, we must all be extra-vigilant when driving so as to help keep all our students safe, especially the younger ones who may not be quite as watchful as they move about and around traffic areas. It is my hope that each and every student will have a good and profitable year, apply themselves to their studies, and learn all they can. It is also my wish that every teacher and administrator’s school year will be an enjoyable and satisfying experience as they meet the challenges of educating our youth.