La­bor Day mad­ness

Our view: A gu­ber­na­to­rial edict on when pub­lic schools must start would set a new stan­dard for mis­guided ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

Gov. Larry Ho­gan is sched­uled to make an an­nounce­ment to­day in Ocean City where it is ru­mored he will re­veal an ex­ec­u­tive or­der re­quir­ing that all Mary­land pub­lic school sys­tems be­gin the school year af­ter La­bor Day. Nei­ther he nor his part­ner in this par­tic­u­lar crime, Comptroller Peter Fran­chot, will say, but Ocean City of­fi­cials are con­vinced that’s what it’s about. We cer­tainly hope they’re wrong be­cause such a move would rep­re­sent not only a newlow in the gov­er­nor’s bro­mance with Mr. Fran­chot, who­has been push­ing such a man­date for years, but the shock­ing aban­don­ment of a fun­da­men­tal — and cus­tom­ar­ily Repub­li­can-es­poused — prin­ci­ple of leav­ing such de­ci­sions up to lo­cal school boards.

Why in­ter­fere with the choice of ed­u­ca­tors, school ad­min­is­tra­tors, teach­ers, PTAs, lo­cal res­i­dents and oth­ers who cur­rently have a voice in set­ting their lo­cal school cal­en­dars to meet lo­cal needs and con­cerns? Chiefly for the most short-sighted rea­son imag­ine­able — to con­ve­nience tourist-re­lated busi­ness own­ers, par­tic­u­larly those in Ocean City, who have long com­plained about the man­ner in which ear­lier school starts cause the sum­mer va­ca­tion sea­son to peter out by mid-Au­gust (and for many to lose their teen sum­mer employees ear­lier than they’d like).

Make no mistake, Au­gust school open­ings are not al­ways pop­u­lar with stu­dents or par­ents. But crit­ics usu­ally fail to ac­knowl­edge the rea­sons why the school cal­en­dar has steadily crept back­ward in time — the ex­pand­ing num­bers of days off for such events as re­li­gious hol­i­days, pro­fes­sional train­ing, snow emer­gen­cies and the like. For aca­dem­i­cally rig­or­ous Ad­vanced Place­ment cour­ses, where col­lege cred­its worth thou­sands of dol­lars to fam­i­lies are at stake, teach­ers al­ready must scram­ble to get a suf­fi­cient num­ber of in­struc­tional days in be­fore fac­ing a dead­line set in prover­bial stone, the na­tion­wide AP tests in May.

Even in Bal­ti­more City and Bal­ti­more County where schools lack­ing air con­di­tion­ing have be­come a hot is­sue — and at­tracted the ire of the same dy­namic duo of ed­u­ca­tional edict — school boards have not em­braced a later start. They are sim­ply loath to com­pro­mise both the qual­ity and quan­tity of in­struc­tion at a time when busi­nesses lo­cated be­yond the reach of the Ocean City Board­walk are cry­ing out for a more knowl­edge­able work­force. Within Mary­land, only the school board in Worces­ter County, home of Ocean City, has vol­un­tar­ily cho­sen not to open all its schools un­til af­ter La­bor Day.

Pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion is a se­ri­ous busi­ness, and there are far greater stakes in­volved than whether Thrasher’s can sell a few more fries. If Mary­land’s elected lead­ers pur­sued only one goal, it ought to be this: Nur­tur­ing the na­tion’s best pub­lic schools and rais­ing aca­demic stan­dards for all no mat­ter their race, re­li­gion, eth­nic­ity or in­come level, a pol­icy that would do more to elim­i­nate poverty, at­tract new busi­ness and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and lower the crime rate in Bal­ti­more and else­where than al­most any­thing else one could imag­ine.

Most Mary­lan­ders un­der­stand this, and it’s why the state’s Gov. Larry Ho­gan, left, and Comptroller Peter Fran­chot are the chief ad­vo­cates for re­quir­ing Mary­land schools to start af­ter La­bor Day. most eco­nom­i­cally suc­cess­ful ju­ris­dic­tions, in­clud­ing Mont­gomery and Howard coun­ties, take par­tic­u­lar pride in the qual­ity of schools and in­vest huge sums in them. Mr. Fran­chot and his cheer­ing sec­tion point to polls that show a ma­jor­ity of state res­i­dents would pre­fer school started af­ter La­bor Day. But vot­ers also want the best pos­si­ble ed­u­ca­tion for their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren and may not re­al­ize the ex­tent to which th­ese two goals con­flict. When in doubt, let school boards de­cide.

One more point nei­ther Gov­er­nor Ho­gan nor the comptroller have likely con­sid­ered. Peo­ple are go­ing to resent this man­date — the out­cry from par­ents and teach­ers is likely to prove long and loud — and that ire is bound to rub off on Ocean City. That kind of neg­a­tive as­so­ci­a­tion is the last thing the East­ern Shore re­sort town needs, con­sid­er­ing its own con­tro­ver­sies with crime, pub­lic brawls, un­der­age drink­ing and flood­ing. Will Ocean City now be re­garded as the rea­son Mary­land’s youth are looked upon first as dish­wash­ers and pizza de­liv­er­ers rather than fu­ture sci­en­tists or tech wizards?

We have de­cried the ex­tent to which Mr. Ho­gan and Mr. Fran­chot have in­ter­fered with lo­cal school poli­cies from their van­tage of the Board of Pub­lic Works be­fore, and no doubt we will have to do so again. Their al­liance has proven too mu­tu­ally ad­van­ta­geous, if dis­as­trous for the school sys­tems and ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sion­als that have run afoul of their bul­ly­ing, for them to mend their ways. Now, they ap­pear to be on the verge of set­ting a new­stan­dard for mis­guided be­hav­ior. What’s next, man­dat­ing the teach­ing of cre­ation­ism in sci­ence class? A ban on sex ed­u­ca­tion? The Gen­eral Assem­bly may yet in­ter­vene — law­mak­ers have re­jected the post-La­bor Day man­date in the past — but per­haps that kind of con­fronta­tion with Democrats in An­napo­lis over a po­ten­tial wedge is­sue is what the gov­er­nor wants in the first place.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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