F. Alternative Calendars Subcommittee Report
Questions to be answered by the subcommittee:
- What will it take for schools to return to a nine-month school calendar with classes beginning at or near Labor Day?
- What are the real benefits and detriments to giving finals before the Winter break?
- How does the school start date affect the budget of school districts--i.e., in what ways does a school district see savings or costs in relation to their school start date?
- How does a start date after Labor Day affect community-desired holidays within the school year--Fall Breaks, Winter Breaks, and Spring Breaks?
- How does the school start date affect the ending date of the school year? What are the ramifications of ending after Memorial Day, or ending after colleges have started their first summer term?
Findings of the subcommittee:
The following represent the assumptions that the School Calendar Committee has made as part of the process of determining its recommendations to the full Task Force.
- Long-Term Learning. The School Start Date Task Force has been appointed by Comptroller Strayhorn to make recommendations to her and the Legislature that will lead to enhancements in long-term learning on the part of the state's public school students. The Task Force differentiates long-term learning from processes and procedures associated with short-term memorization of facts and figures. See Appendix L for more information regarding the "Spacing Effect".
- Study and Review Procedures. Long-term learning is enhanced when students have an opportunity to review and study material that they have been presented over a semester in a thoughtful and timely manner. This is called the "spacing effect" and is well documented in the psychology literature.
- Early Start Dates. There is nothing inherent in the educational process that improves learning because students begin the fall semester in August.
- Local Control. The State of Texas mandates a number of processes and procedures related to public education. While Texas is a diverse state and one that cherishes local control, academically sound decisions stimulate long-term learning and, as a result, it is appropriate for the state to periodically establish standards that all public schools will be required to follow.
- Test Dates. Test dates are artificial and should be set to encourage long-term learning.
- Objective of Statewide Examinations. Statewide examinations are designed to test the knowledge and skills of the state's students as well as to serve as a diagnostic tool for professional educators.
- Length of the School Calendar. The state will continue to require that students spend 180 days in public schools.
- Faculty and Staff Training. Faculty and staff must invest significant amounts of time preparing for the school year and they should be compensated as professional educators for these efforts. The TEA currently grants numerous waivers to school districts from instructional days for staff development and early release. Only eight of the state's largest 50 school districts required their students to attend 180 instructional days in 2004-2005.
- Migrant Children. The children of migrant families are significantly disadvantaged when the school year begins prior to September 1st.
- Tourism. The state's tourism industry is hurt financially when the school year begins prior to September 1st.
- Summer Compensation. The ability of teachers and students to earn money in the summer is curtailed if the school begins prior to September 1st.
- Fall and Spring Grading Periods. There is nothing inherent in the state's efforts to improve long-term learning that necessitates that both the fall and the spring semesters have the same number of instructional days.
- Early Start Dates and Vacations. There is a direct relationship between early start dates and additional vacation days for students during the academic year.
- Date of Standardized Tests. The standardized tests that are offered in the spring of a student's third, fifth, eighth, and eleventh years should be moved to the third or fourth weeks of September in years four, six, nine, and twelve. This will permit the state to have a better measure of student's long-term knowledge. It will reduce the tendency of teachers to focus their attention on teaching material only for the examinations and it could serve as a diagnostic/prescriptive assessment to improve long-term learning. The current standard should remain in place for three to five years before it is changed in order to give teachers the opportunity to realize the progress. The entire assessment program for Texas will need to be examined to consider campus accountability ratings and other standards in the No Child Left Behind Federal Law.
- Fall Semester Examinations. Fall semester examinations should be administered after the Christmas holidays. Students should be given a one- to two-week period in January to review their fall semester coursework with their faculty and then should take their fall final examinations. This will give Texas' public school students an opportunity to maximize their long-term learning opportunities. This practice should be observed at the conclusion of the spring semester as well.
- Ending Date of School Year. The school year must end no later than June 5.
- Beginning Date of School Year. The school year should begin after the first of September.
- Faculty and Staff Preparation. The Task Force recognizes that many faculty and staff members invest a substantial portion of their summer vacations preparing for the following year's classes. Faculty and staff should be expected to formally begin preparing for the school year at least five days prior to the beginning of school and they should be compensated for their efforts. Faculty and staff should not be given instructional waivers during the school year for staff development or early release.