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School in the Sun: Why Back-to-School Is Becoming a Summer Thing

"As we get further in the year students get more and more distracted," school official says

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    School in the Sun: Why Back-to-School Is Becoming a Summer Thing
    Denver Post via Getty Images
    Students load the bus outside Greenlee Elementary School in Denver, August 22, 2016. Students throughout Denver returned to classes as Denver Public Schools began a new academic year.

    Though the weather is still hot enough to go swimming, many public school students across the country are staring at the summer sun through a classroom window.

    Many schools have done away with the tradition of beginning classes after the Labor Day weekend. While many classes are already in full swing, some schools are already looking ahead to next year and debating whether to begin fall classes even earlier. 

    There are more than 13,000 school districts across the country, all of which have their own rules for determining the academic calendar. But pushing fall start dates forward is usually driven by an effort to improve academic performance, by giving teachers and students more time to prepare before end of the year exams in the spring.

    Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland is currently considering a proposal to shift its scheduled summer up and end the break earlier in August. If approved in November, the 2017-2018 school year will begin on Aug. 21, two weeks before Labor Day and a week sooner than its 2016 start date.

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    Derek Turner, the Montgomery County spokesperson, said the proposal has received mixed reaction from the community and that more than 1,000 people have submitted feedback online, with some parents concerned about an earlier fall start date conflicting with summer camp end dates.

    The county proposes that moving up the calendar will give teachers an additional week of instruction before end of the year assessments like national Advanced Placement exams.

    Turner said the beginning of the school year can lend itself to increased productivity in the classroom.

    "As we get further in the year students get more and more distracted," Turner said. "So the earlier we start…the better off we are."

    Rebecca Kaye, the policy and governance adviser for Atlanta Public Schools, said having an early August start date allows the Atlanta school system to include breaks more frequently throughout the 180 class days.

    “The longer you go in school with no breaks we have more student discipline incidents,” Kaye said. “I think that’s a combination of kids having more conflict and emotional stuff built up as well as teachers having more anxiety.”

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    Atlanta Public Schools has one of the earliest fall start dates in the country, starting their 2016-2017 school year on Aug. 3. Kaye said classes will begin next year on Aug. 1.

    "What we saw when we mapped it out was that [incidents of student discipline] would increase, increase, increase, increase, and then we would have a break and it would drop," she said. "That's why we try not to go too long without people having a break to let off some steam and come back refreshed."

    Kaye said Atlanta’s early August start date allows the first instructional semester to end by winter break at the end of December, so high school students don't have to spend the holiday break studying for exams.

    Pedro Noguera, a professor of education at New York University, said an earlier fall start date does not have any direct effect on student learning.

    "The research shows that 180 school days across the year in different ways doesn't necessarily make a difference for kids," Kaye said. "It's about how you use the time and quality instruction."