Since the beginning of public education in our country, the school calendar has been more accommodating to the needs of adults than students.
The agrarian calendar used by most schools today was designed to allow students time to work for their families during harvest and planting seasons.
While much has changed in our country in the past 200 years, the school calendar has not. Schools in America provide fewer days of instruction than other countries and their calendars have a three-month break from learning in the summer. As such, our students are put at a disadvantage in competing for jobs in the global marketplace.
So, last fall, as part of our time reform efforts, I invited Oklahoma City schools Superintendent Karl Springer and Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard to travel to Boston with me to study more closely the issues surrounding quality instructional time for 21st century students.
We visited the National Center for Time and Learning and discussed expanded learning time for schools in need of improvement in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. We also visited Boston schools that have adopted this strategy and are already experiencing significant gains in student achievement as a result.
The Boston trip followed 2008 findings of my Time Reform Task Force and a 2009 requirement of the State Board of Education that all districts analyze and evaluate their instructional time using free resources developed for Oklahoma.
That is why I applaud last week’s decision of the Oklahoma City Board of Education to adopt a continuous learning calendar for students beginning next school year. Even though the change isn’t toward more school days, it is a much more efficient use of learning time.
It is a bold move that won’t be welcomed by all. Change rarely occurs without some resistance. However, Superintendent Springer’s leadership and the Oklahoma City board’s decision put children’s needs first.
Oklahoma City’s continuous learning calendar won’t lengthen the school year for all students. It will shorten the summer break in order to lengthen the fall, holiday and spring breaks. This will allow the district to provide additional help during the breaks, or “intercessions,” to students who have fallen behind.
A shorter summer break helps students to better retain knowledge. Teachers report year after year they must spend several weeks during the beginning of the school year reviewing material covered the previous school year.
Research supports the case that what are called “year-round” or “continuous learning” calendars result in less time spent re-orienting students after school breaks; are effective with remediation, credit recovery and grade makeups; reduce discipline problems; and lower costs associated with providing substitute teachers because regular teachers’ continuing education activities can be held during the breaks rather than on school days.
This decision is not one that Oklahoma City takes lightly or without experience. Seven elementary schools in Oklahoma City and five in the Tulsa Public Schools are on year-round calendars in the current school year. Some of them have used that model for several years. In fact, Oklahoma City’s Sequoyah Elementary School moved to a continuous learning calendar 10 years ago.
The bottom line is that Oklahoma students can continue to be bound by time-honored traditions, or the adults can lead the way to better use of the learning time we have available. It is my hope that more schools will do so in the future.
So, congratulations to Oklahoma City Public Schools for taking this next step to protect the time of childhood they will never have again.
SANDY GARRETT is state superintendent of public instruction for Oklahoma.