Labor Day: Not the day before the 1st day of school

There’s been talk, especially in Maryland’s business community, led by state comptroller Peter Franchot but now including Gov Martin O’Malley himself, that it would be helpful to business if school didn’t start until the Tuesday after Labor Day. As this is Labor Day, it’s finally time for me to weigh in on this debate.

Our mission for the schools based on an equilateral triangle

First, I need to tell you that the entire reason I started this website, with features of a news feed and features of resource pages for specific schools, is that I think bringing together the three vertices of my equilateral triangle model is what’s needed to improve the quality of schools. Actually, the model was taught to me by Dr Doug Brooks, professor of education at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, when I interviewed him in 2001 for a newspaper story I wrote. Our “About” page says:

Unless each point on the triangle grasps the concerns and challenges faced by the others—accurately, fairly, and with an attitude interested in helping—our students don’t have a chance of achieving at higher levels.

The sides of this equilateral triangle model represent the modes of engagement between the three vertices. Messrs O’Malley and Franchot are clearly speaking for the “Community” vertex, and they are making a real attempt to engage the “Schools” vertex. It’s not working, because schools have once again shown a deaf ear. Summer brain drain means kids should be in school year-round, they respond. Or something to that effect.

One problem is that, from the “Students” vertex, this push by the schools in the opposite direction from that of Mr Franchot doesn’t make any sense. American students spend far more hours in classrooms than most other developed countries, especially countries like Finland that we often tout as exemplars of good public education. In other words, do “Students” want school to start after Labor Day? How has the “Community” vertex engaged the “Students” vertex? We don’t know, the answer seems to be.

I’ve been putting off this question for several weeks since Mr Franchot first suggested it because it hasn’t really settled yet. And the reason it hasn’t settled is that while leaders in our community are trying to engage the schools, the schools simply block that engagement with an argument that makes no sense if we consider relevant evidence. On top of that, business leaders aren’t presenting any real evidence either. Sure, we have anecdotes, like “it seems slower this week because we don’t have as many kids coming in as customers,” but nobody so far has presented actual revenue figures for the week before Labor Day. And nobody’s even asking students to engage in the argument.

Until the schools can convince business leaders that they care about problems faced by business—loss of revenue just before Labor Day, for example—and until business leaders convince the schools and students that they really do want to help with the phenomenon of summer brain drain, all we’re going to hear is talking heads going back and forth.

The question of moving the start of school to the Tuesday after Labor Day remains unanswered. It has been brought up before, but this time, it won’t be put to rest, one way or the other, until each party “grasps the concerns and challenges faced by the others.” Either that, or one side will just throw in the towel—not a good idea here. This is an opportunity to look at a real problem in our schools and businesses. Don’t squander it.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.