The heir apparent rose early last Wednesday — pre-dawn early — to greet his official transmogrification from rising senior to the full-fledged real thing.
This sort of event repeats itself, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 3.4 million times each year, making it the very definition of normal. Nonetheless, when the rite arrived in the Jackson household, the boy’s parents reserved the right to have their breath taken away.
A member of the Tampa Catholic High School Class of 2017, his graduation is set for May 24. While the date does not yet loom large on the family calendar, if past is indeed prelude, we’ll be hearing “Pomp and Circumstance” in a virtual heartbeat.
For now, however, the family to-do list is crowded with other, more immediate concerns, including, but not limited to, prepping for another round of college-entrance tests, applying to said colleges, reserving Friday nights for football (the boy, risking his ears but not his cranium, beats a bass drum for the Crusaders) and making sure there’s always enough stuff in the refrigerator to quell the growling of his stomach.
What is it about school, by the way, that makes teenaged boys even hungrier than usual?
So, we’re back in the academic swing, being ruled once more by its rhythmic pulse … and I still can’t help but feel like we’re doing all of this too soon. By two weeks, at least. Hillsborough County public schools opened last week, dragging some private schools along with them. In Pasco, the school board — demonstrating admirable restraint — waited until Monday to ring the opening bell.
In short, the first day of school has crept, once again and to my dismay, into the first half of August. Labor Day, once the great anchor to which the start of the school year was chained, has been pulverized for the convenience of Big Education, becoming just another long weekend in our academic marathon.
Others once ferociously committed to keeping August, or most of it anyway, reserved for low-key road trips, family reunions or summer camp, appear to have succumbed. An Internet check of the “Save Our Summers” state groups — mostly alarmed parents supported by tourist-sensitive business operators — returns, mostly, defunct web pages.
After all, they’d essentially carried the day, successfully lobbying legislatures to link the first day of school to Labor Day, beating back opening days that had, in some states, crept into the first week of August. In some states the link was a week. In Florida it was 14 days, with limited exemptions for high-performing districts.
Superintendents, school boards and, especially, teachers’ unions groused, to no avail. Until last spring, that is, when representatives of Big Ed hit upon this year’s late Labor Day (Sept. 7) as the perfect wedge argument.
Waiting until Aug. 24 to open schools meant it would be impossible to squeeze in a full semester before the Christmas — er, winter — break, leaving students to carry the burden of midterm exams through their holiday. School lobbyists argued successfully that this disjointedness was no way to run an academic schedule.
That certainly sounds reasonable. But the argument really hinges on what we’d like our schools to achieve. If it’s packing all the assignments and exams into a compressed, tidy timeframe, then, bravo. Starting in the first half of August is the ticket.
If, on the other hand, we’d like students to retain what they’ve been taught, postponing exams until after the break is the superior strategy.
I readily confess, I like the contrarian argument, because, as — apparently — one of the last bitter clingers in the save-our-summers camp, it boosts my argument. But, the studies are real.
Investigators call the two methods “binge and purge” and “the spacing effect.”
In the first, students learn at a breakneck pace (the binge), then dump it on their exams (the purge). The result is rapidly dissipating knowledge.
In the second, gaps are inserted between teaching/learning and testing. And the results, dating back decades, are astonishing.
In an article on “spaced education” in the November-December 2009 edition of Harvard magazine, sociologist/editor Craig Lambert identified, “More than 10 rigorous studies on medical students and residents using randomized trials have shown its efficacy: it can increase knowledge by up to 50 percent, and strengthen retention for up to two years.”
There was even a study published at the height of the Save Our Summers frenzy entitled, “Why Taking Exams After Winter Break Is Best For Students: What the Experts Say,” which wrapped the entire argument for longer summers and gap-enhanced testing in a rather flamboyant and unmistakable bow.
Not that I expect to persuade anybody at this point. Conventional wisdom is so deeply baked into the earlier-start rubric you couldn’t dig it out with a melon baller.
Heck, I even have the heir apparent and his mom working against me. Both seem happy to have gotten on with it.
Me, I’m still with “Auntie Mame” Dennis, who, reminded in the closing scene that she needs to have her grandnephew back from India in time for the start of school — the day after Labor Day — answers exquisitely, “Naturally. Of course. Labor Day. That’s sometime in November, isn’t it?”
Published August 17, 2016