Why Does School Start So Early?

First day of school

All dressed up to go to school

My boys went back to school today. It’s hard to believe class is in session, when it feels like summer.

Oh, that’s right. It’s barely the middle of August… which is still squarely in summer. But I walked my kids down to the elementary school this morning, and kissed them goodbye as they lined up for first and fourth grades.

In my mind, I still associate the first day of school with earth-toned corduroy and leaves turning color. Perhaps that’s because my early childhood was spent in the Midwest. But it’s not just because we live in California that my kids have always worn shorts and t-shirts for the big day. While my school days always began on the Tuesday after Labor Day, for the past four years, my children have always begun class before September.

This year’s educational calendar, however, has gotten really off-kilter. Summer vacation began the first week of June, when it was barely warm enough to go swimming– and now classes beginning in mid-August,  it was extremely difficult to coordinate visits with cousins who live in Southern California, where the academic calendar still begins after Labor Day. And not only do my boys not have rust colored corduroy Toughskins to wear, I barely had time to do Back to School shopping- and when I stopped in yesterday at my local CVS, the seasonal aisles were still filled with coolers and flip-flops. Luckily, I was smart enough to order a few pairs of uniform pants during the July 4th sale at Lands’ End.

So why all this monkeying around with the school year? Well, America is no longer an agragian society, and (most of) children are needed as (free, underage) labor on family farms. And the public school system has become increasingly oriented toward standardized testing. Not only is the curriculum geared toward No Child Left Behind, the calendar has become swayed to help students finish the semester before the winter break, to avoid homework over the Christmas holidays and to help retention for final testing.

But really, at the elementary level? Yup. Because many school districts, like ours, are “unified”, meaning that everything in a certain area — from Kindergarten to High School — is under the same jurisdiction. And even in areas where there are separate districts for elementary and middle/high schools, parents usually want their younger kids to be on the same school calendar as their older siblings.

Also, this early to start, early-to-end schedule leaves less time to fill after the standardized tests are administered in early May. I can’t say I  miss the movie watching, gratuitous pizza and cupcake parties that fill those last weeks, although I do think kids are missing out on valuable opportunities for field trips and creative projects that get overlooked during the hard-driving period of the regular school year.

I guess I should just be thankful I have time to sit here uninterrupted, writing this post. Although, I’m sure school volunteer obligations will be starting up soon…

When do your kids go back to school? How do you feel about it?
 

 

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