Citizens Calendar Committee Testifies Before the Tennessee Legislature's Joint Study Committee, November 15, 2007
by Becky Pair,
CCC Executive Board member
It was the kind of crisp, cool fall morning made for school. While the leaves were blowing away memories of one of the hottest summers on record that found students sweltering in school buses and overcome by heat on athletic practice fields, a Legislative Study Panel heard of the hardships created by school calendars that continually creep earlier and earlier into the mid-summer.
Legislators heard for a second time from the Tennessee Department of Education's Bruce Opie, who on his first appearance, had difficulty presenting the many school calendar variations across the State on a simple spread sheet. That should be the first indicator for legislators that something is wrong. Legislators heard how the inefficient handling of standardized testing in the spring, is driving the school calendar. Testimony stated that in some cases, No Child Left Behind mandated testing results are taking up to six months to deliver. That should be the second indicator for legislators that something is very wrong.
Dr. Gary Nixon, Executive Director of the Tennessee State Board of Education, was asked at the last hearing to present some signs of academic benefit for all of these calendar variations. He was a no show. His stand-in offered no data on this question. That should be the third indicator to the legislators that something is wrong with local autonomy to play with families' lives in manipulating calendars, when the play should be reserved for summer activities.
Legislators also heard from the president of the Knox County teachers' union who said that he was unaware of any studies that measured the benefit of year-round, balanced calendars. He further conceded that parents and businesses in Knoxville's Knox County really had little say-so in the formulation of school calendars, except of course for a parent poll which is to be conducted the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving! That should be the fourth and fifth indicators to legislators that much is wrong with arguments for "responsible" local control.
Then, the benchmark testimony of the morning was when Citizens Calendar Committee President Greg Weaver, backed up by CCC board members Becky Pair and Carolyn Harmon, debunked much of the merit behind local school districts' control of school calendar decisions. Dr. Weaver revealed common tactics used by school systems to push school calendar decisions with regional impact and without clear academic merit, on families and communities. Financial resources are misspent on these questionable calendar choices, funds that could hire more great teachers and purchase tools for classrooms. Easily amounting to millions of dollars state-wide, excess costs of cooling occupied classrooms in peak August heat, instead yields no benefits, yet carries greater risks for students and bus drivers.. The higher cooling cost for Williamson County Schools in the month of August 2007 as compared to May 2007, was over $100,000, in our county alone. As one of 96 counties state-wide, and over 130 school systems, Tennessee taxpayers are seeing education dollars wasted on higher utility costs with no benefit.
Our CCC testimony also included notebooks for the legislators full of scholarly research from several states, also refuting the president of the Knox County teachers' union's assertion that there is no data evaluating the balanced calendar's impact to academics. Such studies do exist, demonstrating no statistically significant benefit to any calendar choice, particularly balanced calendars.
A unique testimony, Dr. Weaver's remarks also opened to discussion the impact of school calendar decisions across counties and regions. Calendars do not impact only local districts alone. Families and economic activity cross county lines for work, shopping and for recreation. Local school districts' control of school calendar decision-making inadequately addresses that essential element.
The case is growing and growing for the State to have a definitive say in when school starts and ends. Already demonstrated have been examples of careless, even manipulative efforts of local districts to determine calendar change without the driving force of academic benefit that the legislators wish to hear. Already demonstrated has been local decision-makers lack of appreciation for the true ramifications of school calendar decisions to fiscal responsibility, health and safety of students and families, regional impact to families and the economy. Very troubling are seemingly deliberate attempts to violate the rule and spirit of No Child Left Behind rules which call for a high level of involvement of families in the decisions impacting their children.
There are reasons and examples aplenty, in just two days of testimony, to suggest that school calendars may be a perfect example of where the Tennessee Legislature needs to step in and offer remedy by establishing clear start and end date guidelines for school calendars.
Read the full testimony of the Citizens Calendar Committee, here.