Testimony

Presentation to the State of Tennessee,
105th General Assembly
Special Joint Committee to Study the Traditional School Calendar
Thursday, November 15, 2007

Greg Weaver, M.D
President
Citizens Calendar Committee of Williamson County

To the members of the Special Legislative Committee of the 2007 Tennessee General Assembly;

My name is Greg Weaver. I am President of the Citizens Calendar Committee, (CCC), a grassroots organization of Williamson County parents and teachers, that was formed in late 2005. We advocate the traditional school calendar with preservation of twelve-week summer breaks for students and teachers and a school start date as late as possible in late summer. We believe that the State has a significant interest in regulating when schools across Tennessee start and end their school years.

The Citizens Calendar Committee is led by an Executive Board of five and a steering committee of sixteen representing parents and teachers across Williamson County. Our membership consists of volunteers who donate their time and skills. We are entirely self- funded. All expenses incurred by the CCC are paid for by the members and we accept no money from outside organizations or corporations. None of us stands to benefit financially from the activities of the organization.

The CCC supports excellence in education. We believe that the most important factors in providing an excellent education are excellent teachers who are given the tools they need to teach, preservation of intact five-day instructional weeks to allow continuity of learning, and preservation of the traditional twelve-week summer break. Not all learning occurs in the classroom and we believe that children should have traditional summer breaks to allow them to pursue their own interests.

The Citizens Calendar Committee was formed in 2005 to oppose a proposal to begin the fall semester in Williamson County Schools in July with a "balanced" school calendar. To our knowledge, no parents or teachers had expressed an interest in developing a balanced calendar or an earlier start to the school year. The balanced calendar was developed by the Williamson County Schools district office without input from parents and without notification to parents and was first presented to the public during the holiday season in late 2005.

The District Office advocated the "balanced calendar" without providing any rationale of academic benefit, but rather proposed the calendar to create more periods of "refreshment," a not uncommon motivation of balanced calendar proponents. They performed an unscientific, unreliable and spotty telephone poll, which even though heavily biased against the traditional calendar, failed to show a preference for the change to a July school start date.

Our subsequent review of several hundred parents' and teachers' emails to School Board members revealed a significantly more than two-thirds preference for the traditional calendar over the balanced calendar.

To inform parents of the impact of the balanced calendar proposal, the CCC staffed an informational mall kiosk, bought ad time on local radio stations, participated in radio call in shows, held a series of parent "Town Halls" (which the advocates of the July calendar had failed to do), set up a web site explaining the calendar, and in general provided accurate information to the public about this proposal.

The Williamson County School Board adopted a traditional calendar for that year and abandoned the July start date proposal.

Our opposition to the early school start was initially based on its disruption to traditional summer activities such as:

  • Summer jobs for students, teachers and support personnel
  • Music and athletics competitions and camps
  • Summer rest and recreation time for students
  • Advanced college studies for teachers
  • Summer enrichment camps and Governor's School
  • Family summer activities and travel
  • Mission trips
As we learned more about early school start dates, we found other issues:
  • Increased costs for utilities when school is in session during the hottest parts of the year. The utility costs for 2007 for Williamson County Schools were $100,000 higher in August than in May. The hotter the weather when school is in session, the higher the costs and the more tax money that must be spent on cooling rather than classroom teachers and educational tools.
  • Other economic costs such as decreased economic activity from tourism and decreased supply of seasonal labor as well as decreased wages to students and adults who can't work as long in the shortened summer breaks.
  • Texas estimated the cost to the state's economy from early school starts to be $790 million per year. http://www.window.state.tx.us/specialrpt/schoolstart2004/
  • Health hazards to student athletes and musicians who practice outside during hot days.
  • Decreased instructional time when schools must close because of excess heat. This past August, some Tennessee school systems, including Nashville public schools, were forced to cancel school or dismiss school early because of hot August weather.
  • Added fuel costs for private vehicles to transport students rather than using school buses which were oppressively hot.

The only "benefit" cited by Williamson County advocates of starting school in mid-summer was time off in the fall for cheaper vacations.  Even the most ardent supporters of early school starts did not try to claim an academic benefit. Indeed, scientific studies have shown that there is no statistically significant academic benefit to early school starts. There are no controlled studies to establish that earlier summer starts result in any impact to absenteeism, drop-out rates or discipline problems. These reports are unsubstantiated, anecdotal experience.

A study commissioned by the state of North Carolina, "A Statewide Evaluation of Academic Achievement in Year-Round Schools," by Bradley J. McMillen of the Division of Accountability Services, compared the scores of 345,000 students, and is the largest comparison of the effects of school calendar change in the one hundred year history of "balanced " calendars. The study found NO PRACTICAL SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE between the test scores of disadvantaged students in school with "balanced" vs. traditional calendars.

Should the State of Tennessee regulate school start and end dates? Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin and Minnesota have done exactly that because of the need for state government to exercise proper stewardship of financial resources, to protect the interests of students and families, and because local decision makers do not always give proper consideration to the issues like those discussed above when setting school calendar parameters.

The higher costs to taxpayers for early school starts translate into higher taxes or decreased revenue to hire teachers. Texas passed legislation regulating school start dates when the state legislature learned that early school start dates were costing the state's economy $790 million per year with no academic benefit.

Proponents of local autonomy in calendar decision-making fail to recognize the considerable mobility of the working population. Families, particularly those of teachers, may live and attend one county school system and teach or work in another school system. As widely as Tennessee school calendars vary, this impedes the ability of families to spend time together on breaks/vacation days that do not coincide.

Proponents of local autonomy in calendar decision-making fail to recognize that in today's society many students come from separated homes and blended families that may live in different school districts under different calendars. Custodial sharing of children during summer vacations is further complicated by an assortment of different school calendars. Inconsistent calendars across different school systems throw into turmoil court determined visitation relationships of parents living in different school calendar systems.

Proponents of local autonomy in calendar decision-making fail to recognize the regional impact of local school system calendar changes.

Local decision making bodies may not consider all of the important issues when deciding when their school should start. Because the decisions now being made locally have many non-local ramifications, we respectfully request that the Tennessee State Legislature adopt legislation that would regulate school start dates that would preserve the traditional school calendar. The Citizens Calendar Committee recommends school starts no earlier than the fourth Monday in August.

Gregory R. Weaver, M.D.
President
Citizens Calendar Committee of Williamson County

gweaver@radalliance.com
615-791-0274