Thursday, January 23, 2020
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Extra week of summer good in Ocean City

On the one hand, Gov Larry Hogan, Republican of Maryland, who issued an executive order that public schools had to start the school year after Labor Day, seems to have stirred up some tourism business for Ocean City, a beachfront town on the Eastern Shore. On the other hand, kids aren’t in school this week, and some educators and Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern about the effects of summer slide.

Ocean City Maryland by Jill, Blue Moon Studio
On the boardwalk at Ocean City, Md. (Jill – Blue Moon Studio / Flickr CC)

“You get extra days off,” WJLA-TV (ABC affiliate) quoted one fifth grader as saying. And his father added, “I enjoy the extra time with my son.”

That was one of the biggest points of Mr Hogan’s executive order: allowing families an extra week or so in August, when the weather’s still warm, to spend together enjoying this gorgeous state. Along with the state’s comptroller, Peter Franchot, a Democrat who’s an astute politician, Mr Hogan also believed the added revenue from the tourism industry would bring more prosperity to businesses, especially those in key vacation spots like Ocean City, and therefore more revenue for the state in terms of tax dollars.

I am on the record as doubting that this strategy would actually work to bring in more tax revenue over the course of the year, but all indications are that I have been proven wrong. “The boardwalk is swarming,” WJLA-TV wrote.

I knew I was going out on a limb with my “it won’t work” hypothesis also because a very similar strategy did work in Michigan. When the state pushed back the start of the school year to after Labor Day, it did in fact result in an increase in business activity over the summer. Michigan’s economy is a little different from Maryland’s, but the increase came from the tourism industry there, which looks like it’s going to happen here.

Yet, despite overwhelming popular support for the idea, many educators still don’t want summer to be any longer than it has to be. Some lawmakers have joined that chorus.

“Our public policy should be driven by data, not politics,” wrote Brooke Lierman, a state delegate from Baltimore City, in the Baltimore Sun. “I believe that our education policies should be driven by education data, not tourism data,” she added.

We know “summer slide” affects poor kids, who don’t have as much access to summer enrichment programs, worse than rich kids, thus increasing the achievement gap, if you believe such a thing is real and should be narrowed wherever possible.

Even Mr Hogan would have to admit that the effects of summer slide, which is the term educators use to describe the observed fact that kids tend to forget some of what they learned during summer vacation, could be reduced by making summer shorter. The question is, Who really cares if new fourth graders forget a little of third grade?

Furthermore, summer has always been that way, and very few people support the idea of taking this strategy to its logical conclusion by eliminating summer vacation altogether. Teachers complain about how poor parents can’t afford summer enrichment activities and then transfer all blame for this to our schools. It belongs with our communities, which should act to ease that burden on poor parents or make access to summer enrichment programs more equitable across the socioeconomic spectrum.

In addition to summer enrichment programs, schools also provide nutrition for students, a point made by Ms Lierman and not lost on me. Although this is an important aspect of school and kids can’t learn when they’re malnourished, this is also a responsibility that should be shared by our larger communities, not taken on only by our schools.

For now, though, I have been proven wrong. I’m still a fan of the order, because when I was in Arizona, some schools started on August 3. When I was watching the eclipse at Madras High School in Oregon, I discovered that kids there had been in class since August 7. These dates are encroaching dangerously close to the month of July.

The trend (a fad, really) needs to be reversed.

“This first day of school is an exciting time for students, parents, and teachers,” Mr Hogan said in a press release. “Our administration remains committed to ensuring that every Maryland student has access to a world-class education, and we wish everyone a safe and productive school year.”

Maryland school enrollment hit a record 886,221 students in 2016-17, with another 250,000 children involved in some form of pre-kindergarten, Head Start or licensed childcare program. Those numbers are expected to continue to rise.

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

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