HEY KIDS! GUESS WHAT grownups have in mind for school now… longer school days and shorter vacations. Doesn’t that sound like fun? And guess who’s going to pay for it. You don’t know? Hey, don’t worry. Nobody else knows, either.
But before we talk about that, let’s look at a true educational bargain on the ballot next week in the Ichabod Crane Central School District. Voters there have a chance to approve a referendum authorizing the district to spend $7 million to repair and upgrade the schools. Best of all, smart school officials have engineered a plan that won’t raise property taxes.
Let’s go over that last part again: No tax increase.
The district will have about $2 million from settlements and the sale of the school in Kinderhook plus money already in the bank reserved for equipment and physical improvements. The reserve funds can’t be used to pay more teachers. Then there’s the state, which often gets blamed for what ails education, but in this case deserves credit for promising reimbursement to the district for nearly 3/4 of the work. For anyone who missed the lesson on fractions, 3/4 is a lot.
The full $7-million package will fund asbestos abatement at the primary school, upgrades to the library, a new gym, greater accessibility for people with disabilities, a new roof on one building and other essential work that maintains taxpayers’ investment in school buildings and grounds.
The referendum also includes over a million bucks for technology upgrades. It’s tempting to think that kids and teachers ought to focus less on technology and more on the Three Rs. But the computers at ICC that act as servers–hubs of the networks that students, teachers and administrators rely on every school day–are more than a decade old. Ten years ago computers still came with floppy disk drives. Students entering school today have never even seen a floppy disk. Like it or not, educating children requires access to contemporary digital tools. Without them schools can’t prepare students for success in the real world.
The only serious threats to this referendum are laziness and inattention. Wide use of the Oh-gosh-I-forgot-to-vote excuse could sink the project. To ensure that doesn’t happen, Ichabod Crane Central School District voters should go to the high school gym Wednesday, December 12 between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. and vote Yes for the proposition on the ballot.
SO WHAT WAS THAT ABOUT a longer school day and shorter vacations?
The federal government and the Ford Foundation are funding programs in five states where schools will add as many as 300 hours to the school year in an effort to improve student performance. One of the states is New York, though only poorly performing schools in Rochester are involved in this pilot project.
Rochester is a long way from here, but it’s close enough to cause local educators and school boards to start thinking about what a longer school day or year, or both, would mean for students, teachers and taxpayers. This push to expand the school year has become a national movement, and may soon become the next quick fix for the sagging performance of U.S. students compared to kids in other countries.
The idea has validity. Research confirms what seems obvious, that the more time kids spend learning the more they learn, and closing down classrooms for two months over the summer interrupts the learning process for reasons that no longer make sense. How many kids actually need vacation time to help with the spring planting the way their ancestors did in the 1800s?
If we can agree that more school time improves the performance of public school students, how we can break free of old patterns, reshape the school calendar and not bankrupt our school districts and the taxpayers in the process? The first step is to start planning now rather than hope this initiative will go away. School boards need to calculate the costs of more time in the classroom, factoring in everything from teacher salaries to bus maintenance costs.
Districts like ICC and Hudson have already closed schools. All districts have cut teachers. Nobody wants to merge, but not long from now there won’t be a choice. The state won’t help much, the federal government won’t come to our aid either.
The trends won’t change. The rest of the world isn’t waiting for us, wither. Districts–and maybe nations–that do not find ways to successfully educate their children will simply disappear.