First Day of School! Except Where Kids Have Already Had 100 Hours of Instruction.

Why a home rule charter should start DISD's school year three weeks earlier



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.




  • Beth

    another problem with adding days at the end is high school students – those with AP classes are done after the exam in May. Seniors need to graduate on time to get to summer school/college.
    Most high schoolers start the 1st Monday anyway if they are involved in band, sports, and many other activities.
    Year around school should be explored too – talked to some folks in Wake Co, NC who love it. Summer and afterschool programs have changed to accomodate it and the community seems to love it. More vacation days in fall and spring when it is”off season” to travel, less learning loss over the summer – win win

  • Guesty

    “adding days on the back-end doesn’t help kids with state testing” – Sounds like a rather typical corporate mindset–focused only on the next reported results rather than the long term. Who cares if it helps students in the first year on testing? If the effects are so short lived (i.e. don’t have any effect the next year), then it isn’t worth pursuing anyhow. But if added days mean than after 13-14 years of education a kid knows more at the end, then it should be pursued and should lead to improved testing down the road regardless of when the days are added.

    • Eric Celeste

      I somewhat agree with you here. The problem is that test scores drive so much — money, media coverage, enrollment. They shouldn’t, but they do.

  • theaveragejoe

    Year round school has happen in Dallas ISD, but it turns out that it didn’t affect outcomes on grades, etc. Most of all, I’m a taxpayer, and do you really think about how we will pay for the AC Bills and the extra costs surrounding opening early or year-round. Again, we need to think about what things that other districts are using to get ahead. I know you are a Taxpayer to DISD as well, but I also want for your opinion on the massive testing students receive such as ACP’s in every class room and benchmarks in which it is written by DISD and sometimes have mistakes, so on top of STARR that teachers have to teacher, they also have to teach to the district wide tests. They have no time to even go out for recess, in which I think will solve the obesity problem in our nation.

    • Eric Celeste

      The DISD year-round experiment was half-hearted, and it shows little to nothing. Like all reform programs: Excellent, well-run ones offer a chance for improvement; crappy ones don’t.

    • Beth

      I am not a fan of ACPs. Students take the test and teachers are evaluated based on how well the students do, but the teachers do not get to see the tests. It would be really useful for teachers to see that students scored poorly in one area but better in another to get an idea of what they need to re-emphasize before year-end ACP and STAAR. To me a test that doesn’t provide feedback to help improve teaching isn’t worth much.
      Year around schools don’ thave to cost more if done correctly. Just an issue to be thought through properly.

  • Former Uplift Teacher

    I can offer a unique perspective after having worked for Uplift, the charter program this article talks about. The increased instructional time that is put on the kids there is not as wonderful as the article sounds. What the article does not say is that scholars (students) as young as kindergarten are at school from 7:30 until 3:45 with a 20 minute recess break, and a 30 minute lunch break that is often spent in silence. The scholars are also faced with “tri-weekly assessments” that take about 2-3 hours in each subject. Having a kindergartner take a test for 3 hours is both ridiculous and developmentally harmful. Children at the elementary age level need social interaction, play time, and REST. What children at Uplift schools do not get is rest. As a former Uplift teacher I will argue that the test scores of Uplift students were not very remarkable considering the “extra time on instruction” they’re getting by starting earlier in the year and having longer school days. In fact, the students show signs of being over worked and therefore receive lower test scores than they might have achieved had they not had to take their tri-weekly assessments every three weeks, cumulative formative assessments every 9 weeks, STAAR tests in the spring, and MAP tests twice a year. There is no time for the students to do any experiential learning because they are constantly drilling for the next test. Before anyone considers lengthening the school year, I hope they research the damage it could do to the psychological development of children, especially at the elementary level.

  • David Lee

    On several occasions I’ve heard trustees and DISD administrators say that they want middle class families to return to DISD. Starting the school year earlier, lengthening the school day or lengthening the school year will do nothing to entice them to return. In fact, I suspect it will drive many of the few remaining middle class families out of DISD.

    It will also exacerbate a huge problem in DISD (and to be fair, most public schools in this country) with teacher work loads. American public school teachers spend too much time teaching and not enough time planning, grading, collaborating with peers, contacting parents, tutoring and doing all the other tasks that are essential to quality instruction and student achievement. Teachers in the countries that are outperforming us have far more time scheduled into their work day for these tasks. On the other hand we expect our teachers to do all these things in 45 minutes a day or on their own time.

    Before we consider any changes to the school calendar or school day we need to take a serious look at teacher schedules and work loads. Are they designed to minimize payroll expenses by piling as many classes and students as possible on each teacher or are they designed to maximize quality instruction and student achievement?

    As a father, I also want a better answer than improved test scores when I ask why we need to start earlier and stay later. DISD already spends far too much instructional time on testing and test prep as it is. DISD administrators would do well to work on maximizing the use of the time they already have with our children before asking us for more.

    • Los_Politico

      I’m in complete agreement. I don’t foresee a future where the Woodrow, White, and Hillcrest feeder patterns have ‘normal’ schedules and everyone else is at school more hours a day and more days a year.

      I understand that it’s a mostly poor district, but it’s not entirely poor. If you treat middle class parents like poor people they will completely leave. Morath is completely out of touch with his constituents.

    • Beth

      when EDW was rated Exemplary the teachers had an extra planning period (we used an 8 period day) and I believe it was a key component to achieving higher test scores. They used it to work with others in their same grade, and teachers in higher/lower grades to align curriculum better. Teachers should not be expected to work so many hours off the clock – how many “team meetings”, cafeteria duty, carpool duty, sports events, PTA, SBDM, etc are they expected to attend before/after school for which they are not paid? My company can’t require employees to do so much on their “free” time.

  • Los_Politico

    Can you share your college enrollment data? I have not seen any.

  • Bill

    DISD data for 2013 can be found here: . I don’t believe it captures any out of state college enrollment.

    KIPP data can be found here: .

    Uplift’s data spread is out through their sites, but their 2013 annual report reports 100% college acceptance for 2012 graduates and a trailing rate of 95% for college persistence between freshman and sophomore years. The info section of the main page reports 100% college acceptance for 2014 graduates. Uplift’s North Hills Prep reports its 2014 graduates had a college enrollment of 100%, see .

  • Todd Williams

    If we can fund robust, quality PreK for 3 and 4 year olds the need for substantially longer school days and school years will diminish markedly. If they never get behind, we don’t need nearly as much time on task to catch them up

  • Bill

    Also, I think it’s easy to misunderstand the trap that teachers of underprivileged kids fall into. Too many poor kids grow up in a language poor environment where they hear so many fewer words spoken/are read to much less often than their middle class peers. 1st and 2nd grade teachers face a dilemma: how to get these kids up to passing levels on the state mandated tests. What they’re doing in DISD is teaching to test instead of teaching the curriculum. All goes well, everyone is happy, until middle school because the kids don’t have the reading and language skills they need.

    Many students from well rated elementary schools with passing scores suddenly start to struggle in middle school because they have not mastered the elementary school curriculum and the wheels come off. Good PreK3 and PreK4 can bring up the students and allow the teachers the confidence to teach the curriculum. Add in funding for solid, 8 week, reading based summer programs and you’ll get some good results.

  • David Lee

    We don’t agree on everything Mr. Williams but I am in complete agreement with you on this issue. The research is clear. The achievement gap exists before a child ever sets foot on a DISD campus. We would be wise to work to ensure that every DISD student is enrolled in a quality, full day Pre-K program. San Antonio recently implemented full day pre-K for every student. If they did it, we can too.