The case for waivers

Our view: Board should eval­u­ate school cal­en­dars on ed­u­ca­tion, not tourism

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

Mem­bers of the Mary­land State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion — par­tic­u­larly some ap­pointees of Gov. Larry Ho­gan — showed some real back­bone this week in ef­fec­tively invit­ing lo­cal school dis­tricts to ap­ply for waivers to the gov­er­nor’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der re­quir­ing that pub­lic school start af­ter La­bor Day. Their job is to make de­ci­sions to pro­mote and im­prove Mary­land’s sys­tem of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, not to im­prove Mary­land’s tourism econ­omy, and their com­mit­ment to “ex­pe­di­tiously” ap­prove non-con­form­ing school cal­en­dars pro­vided lo­cal boards of­fer “rea­son­able ex­pla­na­tions of the ed­u­ca­tional ben­e­fits to stu­dents” is en­tirely con­sis­tent with that mis­sion.

The gov­er­nor’s of­fice in­sists that the board can­not ap­prove any waivers be­fore for­mal reg­u­la­tions are adopted, but the board in­stead is seek­ing to op­er­ate un­der in­terim guide­lines in ap­prov­ing sched­ules for the 2017-2018 school year. The con­flict is rem­i­nis­cent of the push-back Mr. Ho­gan re­ceived from the In­ter-agency Com­mit­tee on School Con­struc­tion af­ter he and Comptroller Peter Fran­chot voted to with­hold mil­lions in con­struc­tion and ren­o­va­tion money from Bal­ti­more City and Bal­ti­more County schools un­less they in­stalled win­dow air con­di­tion­ers in all class­rooms with­out cen­tral air be­fore the start of this aca­demic year. That ac­tion ig­nored the lo­gis­ti­cal im­pos­si­bil­ity of such a timetable un­der the con­straints of state pro­cure­ment law and other in­con­ve­nient de­tails, and this one ig­nores the re­al­ity that get­ting a set of reg­u­la­tions on a con­tro­ver­sial topic ap­proved in 90 days, as a spokesman for the gov­er­nor pre­dicted, is highly un­likely. Not only does the board have to de­velop the reg­u­la­tions but they would need ap­proval by the Gen­eral As­sem­bly’s Joint Com­mit­tee on Ad­min­is­tra­tive, Ex­ec­u­tive and Leg­isla­tive Re­view, and given that the leg­is­la­ture has re­jected a post-La­bor Day man­date in the past, that may well not be easy.

Gov­er­nor Ho­gan’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der says the state board has “sole dis­cre­tion” to ap­prove one-year waivers to the re­quire­ment that school be­gin af­ter La­bor Day and end no later than June 15 “based on com­pelling jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.” It should be en­tirely pos­si­ble for the state board to grant waivers lib­er­ally while ad­her­ing to that stan­dard. From an ed­u­ca­tional pol­icy per­spec­tive, there are no small num­ber of “com­pelling jus­ti­fi­ca­tions” for dis­tricts to start the school year ear­lier than Gov­er­nor Ho­gan’s or­der would al­low.

Sum­mer learn­ing loss. The land­mark Be­gin­ning School Study tracked a ran­dom sam­ple of Bal­ti­more City school­child­ren over a 20-year pe­riod be­gin­ning in1982, when they were in first grade. It found that while all stu­dents lose ground in math over the sum­mer va­ca­tion, low-in­come stu­dents lose two to three months worth of read­ing skills while more af­flu­ent peers post slight gains. By the fifth grade, that dif­fer­en­tial can place lower-in­come stu­dents nearly three years be­hind in read­ing. Those losses can have last­ing con­se­quences on rates of high school grad­u­a­tion and col­lege at­ten­dance. Bal­ti­more City schools’ sum­mer va­ca­tion was 10 weeks this year. Had Mr. Ho­gan’s or­der been in ef­fect, it would have been nearly 12 weeks long. Avoid­ing a sched­ule that ex­ac­er­bates sum­mer learn­ing loss would cer­tainly seem like a “com­pelling jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

Stan­dard­ized test­ing. Even in the state’s best school sys­tems, re­sults on the Part­ner­ship for As­sess­ment of Readi­ness for Col­lege and Ca­reers test, bet­ter known as the PARCC ex­ams, were mid­dling, with only about half of stu­dents re­ceiv­ing pass­ing grades last year. The dates when those tests are given are not en­tirely within Mary­land’s con­trol; they must be ad­min­is­tered in con­cert with other states dur­ing win­dows of time in the fall and spring. Sim­i­larly, Ad­vanced Place­ment tests — which Mary­land stu­dents have typ­i­cally done ex­cep­tion­ally well at — are also given on fixed dates in the spring. Max­i­miz­ing the num­ber of in­struc­tional days be­fore those tests in or­der to give stu­dents a bet­ter chance to suc­ceed sounds like a “com­pelling jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

Pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment. One idea dis­tricts have con­tem­plated to cram more in­struc­tional days into the La­bor Day-June15 win­dow is to elim­i­nate some pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment days. But pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment isn’t just fluff; a Coun­cil of Chief State School Of­fi­cers pa­per from 2008 found that well de­signed pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment pro­grams can sig­nif­i­cantly boost stu­dent achieve­ment. But those that were most suc­cess­ful were school-based, not ad hoc op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­di­vid­ual teach­ers, and in­cluded sub­stan­tial com­mit­ments of time — typ­i­cally 50 hours or more. Pre­serv­ing those op­por­tu­ni­ties would also amount to a “com­pelling jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

Some school sys­tems — in­clud­ing the state’s largest, Mont­gomery County — have al­ready hinted that they might seek waivers. Based on their de­ci­sion this week, we have con­fi­dence that the state school board will eval­u­ate them as it should — not based on pol­i­tics or tourism but on what’s best for our chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion.

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