School Til the Fourth of July

February 19, 1994

From two directions, pressure is on Maryland educators to invade the sacrosanct summer vacation. One group wants the state to grant waivers to districts so crippled by winter storms they might not be able to conduct school the 180 days required by law. From the other side comes $400,000 in state grants to six districts experimenting with "year-round" schooling.

Extend the school year beyond mid-June? You might as well propose abolishing the Fourth of July. Only air-conditioning companies are for it. Everybody else -- teachers, parents, students and Ocean City restaurateurs -- is opposed. But we are just past the middle of February, and already several weeks of school have been badly disrupted. Assuming (dangerously) that there will be no more emergencies, the educators ought to be able to get in the required time.

Some districts already have cut into spring breaks and eliminated previously planned holidays like Presidents Day. It may also be necessary to lengthen the school day. American students already attend school fewer days and less time each day than their counterparts in Europe and Japan. So adding an hour a day to students' schedules may be inconvenient but educationally beneficial.

If the school year has to be extended, the districts also might try to make the extra days meaningful. It's a sad comment on American education that the teachers themselves have given up on the last weeks of school. "Nothing goes on," they say. But what if everyone cooperated to make sure that something did go on?

State schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick and state school board members are said to be hard-liners on granting waivers. That's commendable, although some of the districts are under considerable stress. St. Mary's, still recovering from the storm of Feb. 11, has lost nine days of school beyond its built-in "snow days."

The special grants to promote year-round schooling seem designed more to save money during an enrollment boomlet than to improve education. None of the plans actually adds to the 180-day year; all merely rearrange it. In our view, the disadvantages of year-round schooling outweigh the advantages, but controlled experiments of the sort promoted by these grants might prove that beyond cost savings, there is something educationally sound in the idea.

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