Sunday, March 22, 2009

How to squeeze 194 into 192

People hate change.
People are reluctant to give up on tradition.
These are two things that emerge time and time again in education, particularly at the K-12 level. Over the years, the tendency of parents and the community at large to avoid change in the way they think schools should run keeps popping up over and over.
Just ask any school board that has tried to change the structure of its primary, middle (if they have any) and high schools. What's the right grouping of grades? K-6, 7-9 and 10-12? Or K-8 and 9-12? Or K-5, 6-9 and 10-12? Your right answer is largely going to depend on where you went to school, what school district or board you attended and what the tradition in that area has established.
This inability to break with tradition and challenge the past has arisen its ugly head again in the Province of Ontario. School boards in the province go through the annual exercise of 'setting' their school calendars, based on regulations set out under the Ontario Education Act. Those regulations state that 194 days of 'instruction' must be included in the calendar between Sept. 1 and June 30. With the 2008 addition of the Family Day public holiday in the province on the third Monday of February and the latest possible September date for Labour Day, school boards have been scratching their heads on how to squeeze 194 days into a calendar that only has 192. As a result, the first day of classes for the 2009-10 school year looks as though it will vary depending on what school board you're looking at. Some are making their staff come in before the Labour Day weekend for professional development days, bumping back the start of classes for students until the more traditional 'day after Labour Day.' Others have scheduled the start of school for earlier than Labour Day, shortening the traditional 10-week K-12 summer break.
This has drawn a variety of predictable responses -- see some examples here, here and here.
The possibility of a shorter summer even led the Canadian National Exhibition to mail school boards asking them not to start their students' classes before Labour Day as it would have an economic impact on the CNE. The letter (a link will be posted soon) indicates the CNE relies on high school students for much of the labour needed during the fair and starting classes early would take these people away. What this has to do with school boards outside the Toronto area is confusing, but the letters went out last month.
Starting school before Labour Day would be a big change for many families to get used to. However, it's not the end of the world. There are already school boards in Ontario that have a long history of starting classes before Labour Day. This practice isn't uniform across North America or even Canada, but Ontarians seem to be treating it like an unbreakable law.
What do you think? Is it?