Got children in a Florida public school?
Your children's summer vacations are getting shorter and shorter - I urge you to please read every word!
Unfortunately, the Florida Legislature amended during the 2015 session the law that says that school cannot begin earlier than two weeks before Labor Day in September. Our legislators have given our school districts free rein to disrupt your family's summer vacation by starting the school year no earlier than 10 August thanks to House Bill 7069, and our school districts here in the Tampa Bay region have done just that effective with the 2016-2017 school year. Are we moving in the eventual direction of year round school statewide?
This page is being kept here at EdwardRingwald.com in the hope that our Florida legislators will one day realize the damage done to public K-12 education in the State of Florida thanks to federal intrusion into states' rights thanks to the federal No Child Left Behind Act and its successor, the Every Student Succeeds Act. The only way Tallahassee can rebuild public K-12 education in Florida is to stand up to the federal government and repeal Florida's laws mandating student testing - in other words, do completely away with tests such as the Florida Standards Assessments and its predecessor, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) as well as Common Core. Just remember, as you note the much earlier school start date be mindful why your children are starting the school year earlier and earlier: It is all in the name of standardized high stakes testing and Common Core.
Back when I went to school (which was, thankfully [due to the thoughtful vision of my mother], a private school) the school year did not start until the day after Labor Day (the first Monday in September) and did not end until about the first week in June. We went to school to learn as well as to prepare ourselves for the challenges that faced us in the years ahead. However, years later times have changed and the school year is being started earlier and earlier, causing the potential to disrupt summertime activities for families. Want to know more? Read on.
Bring on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and its successor,
The Florida Standards Assessment Test
Years ago, we wanted to measure the level of success our children are learning in the public schools, while at the same time we wanted to grade each school's individual overall performance so that students who were not performing so well in a school which was not faring well academically could transfer to a different school. So, enter the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test or what we Floridians call the FCAT.
In the years since FCAT was implemented statewide, I believe our public schools went from giving our children the quality education they deserve for every tax dollar we homeowners pay to what I believe is nothing more than preparing our children for the annual FCAT examination. Our children are constantly being drilled every day in school to prepare for and do well on the FCAT than getting a quality education.
Now with the FCAT in place, how can school boards across Florida better prepare our children for the FCAT? The obvious choice: Let's start shortening the summer vacation and tinker around with the school calendar to ensure student success on the FCAT as well as keep the individual overall school grades up as well. After all, the 180-day minimum (which is mandated by Section 1001.42 (12)(a) of the Florida Statutes) would still be met, if not exceeded.
The FCAT has since been replaced with the Florida Standards Assessments as well as End Of Course testing in several subjects (and I mean the End Of Course testing diktat mandated by the Florida Department of Education, not the final examinations that teachers develop). You can read more about the FCAT and its successors on my Dump The FCAT/FSA page.
The Effects of Shorter Summer Vacations in Florida
A grassroots group in south Florida led by Sherry Sturner, SaveFloridaSummers.org, convinced Florida legislators to stop this earlier school start date madness and restrict opening school to not earlier than the week before Labor Day. I believe shorter summer vacations are detrimental not only to students, but to parents and teachers as well. Why?
NOTE: The original site, SaveOurSummers.org, became SaveFloridaSummers.org. The Save Florida Summers website is currently inactive and the link goes to an archived version of that web page at the Internet Archive.
1. Shorter summer vacations mean less time. Having a shorter summer vacation disrupts families' vacation plans as trips and activities have to be planned around an expanded school calendar. That means in some cases no sending your children to summer camp.
2. The hotter temperatures in August. A typical school's electric bill soars in the summer, especially when classes return to session. I believe a lot of our schools do not have air conditioning systems that can meet the heavy demand during the peak of the summer season. After all, schools were constructed with the traditional school year from September to June in mind. Bear in mind, when school is out for the summer there is limited staff to handle administrative affairs among other things. And, just before the school year starts, the teachers come back and set up their classrooms. And most importantly, our children can't learn very well in the sweltering 90+ degree heat of August!
3. The Florida hurricane threat. Remember 2004's hit parade of Florida hurricanes by the names of Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne? And 2005's golden hit parade of Florida hurricanes by the names of Katrina, Rita and Wilma? And the near misses that followed practically every hurricane season after 2005? Once a county issues an evacuation order for low lying areas schools have to be closed to make way for their use as hurricane shelters resulting in lost days for school. These days then have to be made up during the school year somehow. Having school start in the height of hurricane season doesn't make sense; it just isn't a good idea.
4. Summer school. Remember in Pinellas County when students had the opportunity to attend summer school in order to repeat a course to improve a failing grade? Back in the traditional calendar days students can attend summer school either to retake a class or to accelerate themselves in high school to graduate early. Well, summer school as we used to know it in Pinellas County was eliminated due to budget cuts made a while ago. And besides, with a shorter summer vacation you can't hold an effective summer school.
Did I mention summer school? In Pinellas County, summer school - reintroduced as Summer Bridge - is pushed heavily to students that need to repeat a class to bring up a failing grade, as well as students who need intensified remedial instruction due to a failed FCAT/FSA test. Tip: If your child's teachers, guidance counselor or even the principal tries to sell you on Summer Bridge in Pinellas County, say no. Summer vacation is meant for students to take a break from the monotonous routine of school, not waste time with remedial classes.
5. Limited opportunities for teachers during the summer. When the school year is over, the teachers have to wrap up everything for the school year such as giving out the final grades to students and catching up on required paperwork. Once the school year is over for the teachers it means a temporary end to their paychecks, at least until next school year starts. Teachers would pursue other opportunities during the summer break such as internship or paid summer employment, especially when a continuous paycheck every two weeks is crucial for a teacher to support his or her family.
6. Students look forward to their summer vacations. Summer vacation means a lot of things to a student. It means a good respite from the prescheduled routine of daily attendance at school as well as the homework that comes with the territory. It also means an opportunity to take on paid summer employment in order to gain some work experience to have when students pursue their chosen career fields after college. And for students deciding on a college to attend after high school, it means an opportunity to check out the college for the student to decide.
7. Most importantly, the all important FCAT/FSA test! Remember why summers have to be shorter? According to Save Florida Summers, schools want to start the new school year earlier twofold: (1) That student success on the FCAT is assured to each and every student and (2) an earlier start to the school year would give schools an advantage when an overall school's grade is concerned. After all, students in Florida's public schools are not getting the quality education like we used to a long time ago; instead, the "education" our children now get in Florida's public schools amounts to nothing more than drill and practice to prepare for that all important FCAT/FSA test usually given around February or March. How is our taxpayer money being spent on public school education in Florida? And how about how does the Florida Lottery benefit education?
What can we Floridians do about this shortened summer vacation mess?
The Florida Legislature tackled this issue and passed a law, which is codified in Section 1001.42 (4)(f) of the Florida Statutes and reads thus:
(f) Opening and closing of schools; fixing uniform date - Adopt policies for the opening and closing of schools and fix uniform dates; however, beginning with the 2007-2008 school year, the opening date for schools within the district may not be earlier than 14 days before Labor Day each year.
Unfortunately, the statute was amended for school districts that are classified as an Academically High-Performing School District according to Section 1003.621 of the Florida Statutes. Translation: Upon designation of the school district by the State of Florida as an Academically High-Performing School District, it gives the district carte blanche to start school much earlier than the standard 14 days before Labor Day. A great example that happened for the start of the 2011-2012 school year is the Citrus County School District; that district began the 2011-2012 school on Monday, 8 August 2011 two weeks before the other school districts in the Tampa Bay area.
To further give not only Academically High-Performing School Districts but all school districts in the State of Florida free rein to start school earlier, the school start date law was amended in 2015 thanks to House Bill 7069 to push the school start date to no earlier than 10 August of each year instead of two weeks before Labor Day.
Our legislators need to go back and repeal that part of Section 1003.621 of the Florida Statutes that gives school districts free rein to start school much earlier as an award for outstanding academic performance. The school start date needs to be the same statewide. Moreover, our legislators also need to go back and put back the school start date to no earlier than two weeks before Labor Day, not 10 August.
One person can't change things, but there is strength in numbers. Perhaps we Floridians can send a message to our legislators demanding the return of the school calendar to the traditional September to June school year so that our families can be together during the summer months when school is not in session. Going back to the traditional September to June school year makes good sense, so is doing away completely with the FCAT/FSA test and Common Core.
The final word - a perspective from Edward Ringwald
Back in the earlier days when we had a traditional school calendar, our children went to school to get a quality education. A quality education which would prepare our children for the challenges of tomorrow. A quality education which would put our children on a career path for the future. After all, the children we educate today will be our future of tomorrow.
Today our children are not getting a quality education as far as our public schools are concerned. The education our children get today is nothing more than repetitive practice and drilling for a statewide test which is tied not only to student success but to a monetary advantage for schools. Our students have to suffer in the form of shortened summer vacations resulting in longer school years as well as relating the things students have to learn to a standard mandated to pass a test.
Our children should not have to suffer through all of this hodgepodge. Let's put quality education back into our public schools by going back to the traditional school calendar and abolishing the FCAT and the FSA and state mandated End Of Course testing! We need to give our children the quality education they deserve and our school administrators the opportunity to set an excellent example for our children rather than competing with other schools for the money and the prestige. Teachers should be allowed to teach the subjects they are experienced in, such as English Composition or Algebra, and not be forced to teach the FCAT/FSA test throughout the school year. And finally, students should be measured based on their academic performance during the school year and not based on some state mandated test such as the Florida FCAT/FSA test!