It’s the first day of school in North Texas! Well, it is for public schools, since by law in Texas school can’t start until the fourth Monday of August. But that’s not true for charters and private schools, which are allowed to set their own schedule. This is a key point that the Home Rule Commission should discuss, because starting this late in the summer absolutely hurts student outcomes.
For private schools with wealthy kids, the summer-learning gap is not great, so they don’t have to worry as much about how many days their kids are in school compared to large, poor urban districts like DISD. For districts filled with poor kids, every hour of instruction counts. As well, state tests are given to public/charter kids at the same time, so having as much time to prepare for these tests is crucial.
That’s why the best charter schools start school much earlier — three weeks ago, in fact, on August 5. For example, Uplift Education schools, which have 84 percent of their urban school students on free and reduced lunch (similar to DISD’s 90 percent), spend their first week on goal setting with no classwork, to get the kids to understand why they are there. (E.g., what the goal is — graduation, college preparedness, and a college education — and how to achieve it.) They then STILL get two full weeks of a head start in instruction to all Texas public schools. This is not the only reason that Uplift’s outcomes — in 2013, 100 percent college acceptance, and 95 percent college persistence from freshman to sophomore year — outpace DISD’s, but it sure as hell doesn’t hurt.
Why not just add more days to the end of the school year, like, for example, the private Momentous Institute (also 90 percent free and reduced lunch) does? Sure, that means there is only a two-month summer for poor kids to fight against the summer slide, but as trustee Mike Morath explains in this Dallas Morning News article, adding days on the back-end doesn’t help kids with state testing.
“We have no control over when state tests come, so adding time at the end of the year doesn’t help. Adding instructional time by slowly starting school earlier and earlier would help. It just makes sense,” Morath said.
Of course it does. So this post is just a reminder to the Home Rule Commission that, while everyone is excited that DISD schools are starting today, its kids are already starting behind.