I’m glad I don’t have a kid in a Mass public school this year

With 5+ snow days already racked up on February 4th, districts in Mass are freaking out about what to do with the end of the school year.  Most districts budget in 5 snow days, and legally can’t go past June 30th due to collective bargaining agreements with the teachers.

About 5 years ago, in my first or second year on the job, we had a terrible Feb and were at the point where the year was extended through June 30th and one more snow day would cause us to reconsider a vacation day or a saturday or some such nonsense.  We got veeeeeeeeery lucky and there were no more snow days, school ended on the 30th with all the scheduled vacation days intact and everyone heaved a sigh of relief.

While most districts can tack on another day or two before hitting the June 30th deadline (which is a Thursday), I can understand their fears…February is usually full of snow days, and when the bulk of cancellations occur in a normal year.

I am the last person to downplay education.  I’m a former teacher, and I’m the first one to get up into the bully pulpit and herald the importance of getting an education/taking school more seriously/good grades, etc.

However.

Anyone who has ever attended a public school or taught in one knows that not much learning happens in the last two to three weeks of school (and I’m being generous here…many kids and parents check out once the state testing is over in May).  Extending the school year doesn’t mean the learning happens longer…by June 10th it’s too damn hot in an un-airconditioned Massachusetts schoolroom for anyone to get anything done.  Which is when we teachers start pulling out the movies…because (and here’s a secret) grades have to be turned in a week before school ends anyways and we need time to give, correct and grade the final exams.  We need to clean our rooms and lock away all the stuff we want to still be in the classroom in September (especially if we know for certain that summer school classes will be held in our rooms).

In Boston, kids just stop showing up.  By the last day of school, you’re lucky if 5 kids deign to show up.

Now, many people take this as an opportunity to bash teachers, because of the June 30th deadline.  That we are money grubbing soul-less selfish assholes who can’t wait to take home our giant paychecks and spend summer break paying Raoul, cabana boy extraordinaire, to rub us with coconut oil.  The reality is that most of us teach or work during the summer.  Or attend school, ourselves.  Or lesson plan.  Or…HEY…spend time with OUR OWN KIDS INSTEAD OF YOURS.

In the Northeast, one of the biggest issues is that we don’t start school until after Labor Day (although teachers often report in mid-August…giving us a grand total of 6 weeks of summer “vacation” instead of the mythical “3 months” that trolls like to throw around).  Starting a week earlier would give districts far more time to allow for snow make-ups.

We also still have both a February and April week long vacation, which is not the norm in most parts of the US…most people have switched to the same calendar universities use…a week off in March with long weekends for Presidents Day in February and Good Friday in April.  So maybe that might also give us some additional time to play with in case of snow.

Neither of those issues is the teacher’s union’s fault.  They’re the fault of tradition, and the uproar from parents at the idea of taking away the vacations THEY grew up with, and therefore feel that THEIR kids are somehow entitled to.

An article in today’s Boston Globe was particularly provocative when they suggested canceling part of February break.  Some commenters said that it was too late to cancel vacation plans, causing a minor classist war to break out among those who can afford vacations and those who can’t.  I truly doubt that anyone is going to cancel February break when we’re weeks away, but thanks for feeding the trolls with that one, Boston Globe.

Personally, I would be torn if Elanor were attending a public school.  If we had already made plans for April break (and considering it’s February 4th, it’s likely we would have) and they involved air fare…it’s highly unlikely we’d cancel our plans, regardless of what the school district chose to do.  In our case, I would have little trouble ensuring that missed work would be made up (seeing as how I’m a certified teacher and all), and wouldn’t lose any sleep over missed days.

As a teacher, it was always a bit more ambiguous.  Depending on the kid and the parent, I had anywhere from none to a huge issue with kids missing school.  The kids who were bright and had involved parents who cared about grades were fine.  They made up the work and moved on without a problem.  The ones who struggled, who’s parents were less involved, or who had learning disabilities were at a huge disadvantage and often didn’t bounce back, with even two days creating a learning gap (particularly in math or science, which as they were mandated by the district moved fast and didn’t do much in the way of repetition–you got the knowledge or you didn’t).  I would offer tutoring, but more often it was the kids who needed it the most who accepted it least often.

I question the value of solutions like canceling breaks or adding Saturdays or even extending the school day.  I

t’s always going to be a crap shoot as to whether kids are going to show up on a Saturday or canceled break day…and if only 1/2 of your class is there, there’s no real value in teaching anything.  In Boston, we had a lot of kids who were Dominican and Peurto Rican…and they never came to school on 3 Kings Day…usually depleting the class to the point where there was no value in teaching new material…creating a useless day/movie day/game day for the rest of the kids.  I would bet money that in all but the youngest grades in the poorest districts (where we’re seen as free babysitting more than educators…I know this personally from my days in Cambridge, where my kids came from the housing project across the street) that attendance would be microscopic, and that many parents would be uninterested in enforcement.

Extending the day has the benefit of the kids already being present, but how do you double the pace of their learning to suit your needs?  You can’t.  You can spend extra time on the stuff you taught them in the earlier class that day (assuming you add an hour a day for a few weeks, with each subject getting a day for the “extra make up time”…which is the traditional way these things work), but you can’t move onto tomorrow’s lesson.  Sorry district, but the kids don’t work that way.  So is there really value to it?

Then you have my favorite trolls in the world…the ones who invoke Asian schools like those in Singapore, whose students clock “fewer” hours in school but are doing better.  Those people have no idea what they’re talking about.  Kids in Singapore (and other Asian countries) leave school….to go to school.  Extra tutoring is the norm…if you don’t do it, you’re looked down as not caring about your kids.  The entire cultural attitude about the importance of schooling, the instruction methods, and the expectations and punishments are radically different from American ones.  So comparing the two is like comparing SUVS and unicorn farts.

We also don’t really have weather in Singapore that would contribute to the cancellation of a school day.

Sitting back and watching it all go down, I’m mostly just glad I’m not the parent of school-aged kid with something at stake in these arguments.  I might just have to beat my head against a wall until I fell unconscious.

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2 Responses to I’m glad I don’t have a kid in a Mass public school this year

  1. Ange says:

    YES. My district has had 6 (I think? Maybe 7?) snow days so far, with more predicted for late next week. Attendance has been ridiculous on the days between storms – parents seem to think it’s not worth sending their kids for “just” a day if another storm’s coming so soon. Technically I’ve had three days of school this week, but it feels like a non-week. Very little has gotten done.

    Right now everything is headed toward MCAS (state standardized test) in March & May. Everything. Our principal calls it the “Holy Grail” even though we all know it tells crap about the kids’ abilities – including her. The time they’re tacking on after the test isn’t going to help these kids be prepared for the test itself.

    However – as much as I worry about the kids not being prepared, and whether or not I’m going to have to push back my summer vacation plans, I’m really really really enjoying the snow days.

    • Crystal says:

      I always enjoyed the snow days as they happened but was as eager as the kids for the year to be O-V-E-R by June 15th.

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