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Executive Summary

Summarized here are the subcommittees' answers to the Comptroller's basic questions and those questions expanded upon by the Task Force in general.

Public Participation

  • How do parents, teachers, and community members currently feel about the earlier start dates?
  • How should the issue of school start dates be prioritized among other critical education issues, i.e., teacher salaries, student dropout issues, college readiness and student performance, school employee health insurance, school funding and/or tax restructuring?

Survey results and public forum comments are included in this report in Appendices A through J.

Waiver Process

  • How can the waiver process be strengthened to ensure that parents and community members have a say in the decision-making process?
  • Who has the responsibility for determining a school district's start date--the local community or the state?

The subcommittee found that local control demands that as long as a mandatory school start date is stipulated in law, a waiver process is needed to allow local school districts scheduling discretion. However, the process by which waivers are granted should be strengthened to give the community more say in the process. Recommendations include more public disclosure about the process and the proposed calendar, as well as more opportunities for the community to voice their opinions. Further, the recommendations would require the Commissioner of Education to give greater scrutiny to the waivers to insure that the districts have complied with all public disclosure requirements.

Professional Development

  • What value is added by allowing schools to waive instructional days in exchange for staff development? Are teachers benefiting from, and are they satisfied with the quality of mid-year staff development days?

The subcommittee found that professional development adds value to classroom instruction and that mid-year staff development is important for all involved. Professional development, therefore, should remain a matter of local control, including the district' ability to waive instructional days to provide staff development for teachers.

Student Learning and Instruction

  • When should the TAKS test be given? Would giving the test later in the year ensure that instructional time is used effectively?

Given current constraints and retesting schedules, the subcommittee concluded that the current testing schedule is the only viable alternative. Opinions of administrators and teachers as to the effectiveness of instruction following the TAKS administration in April were mixed at best, but clearly the retesting schedule is driving the date when the test is taken.

Migrant and Workforce Development Issues

  • What can be done in the context of this study to help migrant families and children?
  • What is the economic and social value of meaningful summer employment, including such things as learning about work ethics, career development, career and education choice and resume ethics, all of which are only possible with "meaningful" summer employment that is limited if not impossible with the shortened season?

Survey results and other data examined by the subcommittee confirmed that migrant students as well as students and educators who work during the summer would benefit significantly from a longer summer break. The subcommittee recommended that a start date during the week of September 1 with the school year ending on or before the first week in June would benefit migrant students and working educators and students, as well as the economy in general.

Alternative Calendars

  • 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?

During the course of the Task Force' work, some basic imperatives were identified as being the school start date drivers: a need for local control and finals before Winter break. In addition to taking the traditional approach of building sample calendars based upon various start and end date scenarios, this subcommittee challenged the basic assumptions of learning. 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 psychology literature.

Therefore, the subcommittee recommended that the standardized tests that are offered in the spring of a student' 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' 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.

Further, the subcommittee recommended that 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.

The subcommittee concluded that these two major shifts in the way that instruction and testing are delivered in our public schools would remove the school districts' incentives for starting early, and a start date during the week of September 1 and an end date no later than the first week in June would not only be possible, but desirable.

What follows are the individual reports submitted by each subcommittee.