Back to School in Mid-August?

It’s back-to-school day for more than 4,500 D.C. school children at 11 D.C. schools. Next Monday, Aug. 21 — total solar eclipse day — all D.C. schoolchildren will be back in school.

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Garfield School, 2435 Alabama Ave. SE. Courtesy DCPS.

It’s Aug. 14, some 40 days till fall begins. Public swimming pools throughout the District are open all month free of charge and the weather has been perfect. Summer living is easy and …

Wait a minute! Today. Aug. 14. It’s back-to-school day for more than 4,500 D.C. school children at 11 D.C. schools. Next Monday, Aug. 21 — total solar eclipse day — all D.C. schoolchildren will be back in school.

The August openings are bringing more D.C. schools into the “extended school year” fold. The new schedule was tried out at the Raymond Education Campus in Ward 4 beginning in 2015. In the 2016 national PARCC exam, the school saw improved academic performance, with a six-percent increase in English Language Arts proficiency and a three-percent increase in math proficiency, according to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office.

“By combating summer learning loss and giving students more time to learn and explore, our extended year schools are showing what it means to give all Washingtonians — beginning with our youngest residents — a fair shot at success,” Mayor Bowser said at the launch at Garfield Elementary School.

“Additional time in school means our students experience more instructional and enrichment opportunities in everything from math and English language arts to world language and music,” added Chancellor Antwan Wilson at the launch event.

Research suggests that time away from school during the summer contributes to the achievement gap. Students from low-income families often lose more than two months of reading achievement during the summer, while their middle-class peers continue making gains.

According to Bowser, 595,790 additional hours of learning will have been added for the students at 10 additional schools for the 2016-17 school year. The schools are primarily located in Wards 7 and 8.

In reality, the United States is far behind most industrialized countries in the number of annual hours required to attend school. While school systems are locally and state run in the United States, over the years the U.S. Department of Education has recommended 181 days of school as the minimum for optimal learning. Most primary and secondary schools in Europe and parts of Asia require more than 200 days of school annually.

Until recently, the three-month summer vacation has been an almost exclusively American tradition, this despite the fact that only some American parents have more than two weeks paid vacation a year. But over the past decade, school districts throughout the country have been experimenting with longer school days and school weeks. Education reporters who follow the issue report that, while parents generally favor the change, resistance has come from teachers’ unions, which negotiate teachers’ salaries based on a nine-month contract.

Even good teachers have told education reporters such as myself: “There are three great things about the teaching profession: June, July and August.”

Perhaps not coincidentally then, the beginning of the new expanded school schedule in Washington comes on the same day that a tentative agreement on a new contract for teachers’ compensation was announced by Mayor Bowser and Chancellor Wilson. The tentative agreement will “significantly increase compensation by a 4 percent retroactive increase in Fiscal Year 2017, a 3 percent increase in Fiscal Year 2018, and a 2 percent increase in Fiscal Year 2018. In addition, it will add additional [unspecified] benefits for teachers in DC Public Schools as well as additional funding to the District’s education budget.”

Washington Teachers Union members have been without a contract since 2012. Even so, DC Public Schools currently has the highest first-year teacher salary in the country at $53,000, as well as the fastest path for teachers to earn a six-figure salary. “This new agreement will further cement that standing,” according Mayor Bowser’s announcement.

In the 2016-17 school year, DC Public Schools employed 4,015 teachers, serving nearly 50,000 students across 115 schools.

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