Many in North Carolina were off school last week, and many are still not able to resume thanks to the devastation of Hurricane Florence. My family in Wake County were very lucky. That didn’t keep my area from being angry at our school board. The problem came when make up days for time missed were proposed. I myself struggled with the mere idea of Saturday school for my special needs child. However, most of us put the pressure on our local school board. The pressure needs to be put on the General Assembly of North Carolina.
As many others have alluded to this week, we have a very strict calendar law. While 14 states restrict when a school year can start, NC as well as Maryland, also restricts when the school year can end. This gives our school board a tight window for things like make up days. According to the NC calendar law first enacted in 2004, traditional public schools have to start on the Monday nearest August 26, and end on the Friday closest to June 11. As stated in a WUNC report, “In those months they have to fit in 185 school days, nine teacher work days, several weeks of holidays, and make-up days lost to weather events.” Keep in mind this only applies to traditional public schools. Year round and charters are exempt from the NC calendar law.
What is so alarming about NC’s calendar law isn’t just that the state restricts local control, but that it does that knowing that students’ and educators’ interests aren’t given the highest priority. In 2017, the NC General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division or PED, created a very telling report. The stakeholders clearly fit into two groups, ones that benefit financially from the law and those that actually teach our children.
While the report highlighted all the pros and cons of our calendar law, it was the conclusion of the report that left me baffled. The report recommended no large change to the law. In the end, the experts in education were no match to industry and money in North Carolina.
Exhibit 15 in the the document sums up my point. On one side you have the ‘stakeholders’ who prefer state control of the calendar. They include The NC Travel and Tourism Coalition, the NC Association of Realtors, and the North Carolina Vacation and Rental Managers Association as well as other tourist related interests. While the tourism industry tried to cite that the calendar law benefited the state financially, no one could find any data to back up that statement.
On the other side of things, are those who favor more local control. They include groups like NCAE, NC Department of Public Instruction, NCPTA, the NC State Board of Education, and other groups who study education policies. So, if all the stakeholders that actually have something to do with educating children agree that we need more local control, why on earth do we still have the calendar law? This is the question we must continue to ask our legislature.
There was another group on the list that warrants some scrutiny and not just because it shares initials with Save Our Schools. The group is or was Save Our Summers North Carolina. They call themselves a grassroots parent led group to protect traditional summer. Their website is down, and I had to do some digging. They sound well meaning, but not representative of most NC families. I couldn’t find much, but according to Guidestar, in 2009 they listed $20,130 in assets. They did do an excellent job of raising money.
They had a petition with over 20,000 signatures asking the General Assembly for later school start dates. They also stated that polls showed that 70-80% of NC support that. They are repeatedly mentioned in the PED report as a stakeholder in supporting state calendar control. The PED report actually refutes their data. In fact, according to the Elon Univeristy poll, 65% of the public support local control for the start date of schools (10% had no opinion). That leaves only 25% who actually favor state control of the school calendar.
They do have a list of other points and a few of them are valid. However, their most crucial argument is that having a full 3 months of summer is more family time. I don’t think family time is restricted to summer. I think we could have family time just as easily in May as we can in August. In fact, one of the arguments to have a local control is so that high schools can have exams, and the end to second semester before Winter Break. The current calendar law forces most high schools to have exams and schools finalize second semester after Winter Break. I know from experience that nothing ruins family time like writing a paper on The Great Gatsby at Grandma’s house at Christmas time.
Other points by Save Our Summers are about fall sports and the heat I agree that summer sports and the temperature can be a problem for North Carolina when starting in early August. However, I also believe that practice times can be adjusted, and starts of seasons manipulated to help. We aren’t so rigid that we couldn’t make something work even if it looked just a little different than it did in the past.
The strangest point in favor of a long summer and state control is that educators depend on summer jobs to make ends meet. That is indeed a very serious issue. One that the General Assembly can also fix. PAY OUR TEACHERS A LIVING WAGE. We should never use the inadequacy of our General Assembly’s policies to promote further bad policies.
The PED report concluded by saying that competing interests cannot be reconciled. This report simply highlights that our state listens to those with wealth and profit interests above the welfare of our children and educators. Education policy should be made by the educators.