Thursday, August 30, 2007

Academic rigor: a top American priority...just a little behind tourism

There is nothing about the criticism of public education that makes me angrier than the hypocrisy inherent in some of it. Public education is often treated, especially by politicians, as if it is completely divorced from the rest of the public. The public is demanding high standards, but because of laziness or incompetence, those of us in the schools fail to deliver what the public wants. Baloney! I have argued that the major reason public education isn't better, especially when it comes to test scores, is because we try so hard to give our various publics what they really want.

No word is more in vogue these days when it comes to public education than "rigor." Everybody wants more academic rigor. In fact, they don't just want it, they demand it. Politicians demand it, American business demands it, colleges demand it, and if you ask Joe Blow on the street, he'll probably say he's for it, too. Everybody wants more academic rigor from our public schools...unless, as this USA Today article shows, it means that someone might be inconvenienced.

After a swing toward starting the school year earlier, sometimes as early as the first week of August, momentum has grown in several states to begin school later in August or after Labor Day.
Pressure from parents and the tourism industry has pushed 11 states to limit how early school may begin, rankling school boards that want local control and more time to prepare students for state-mandated tests.

This year, new laws took effect in Florida, where the 67 public school districts may not begin classes earlier than 14 days before Labor Day, and Texas, where the 1,033 public school districts may not begin until the fourth week in August.

In Michigan, a law enacted last year said the 838 school districts must begin classes after Labor Day.

Other states, including Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky, are debating the start date.

Before I go on, I should say that I've read that concern about August heat is a factor is some places, and that is a legitimate concern. But Minnesota passed one of these laws, and August heat is not a major factor here. I think the USA Today article has it right. The major reason for these laws is pressure from parents and the tourism industry.

This is typical of the hypocritical demands that those of us in public schools face. Yeah, everybody wants academic rigor, alright. Some people want academic rigor, but not if it interferes with the amount of money their kids can make by cutting their summer jobs short. Some people want more rigor, but only if it doesn't interfere with their kids' "part-time" jobs during the school year. Some people want more rigor, but only if it doesn't interfere with the amount of time and effort they want their kids to put into their sports or other activities. Some people want more rigor, but not if it's going to mean they can't take their two-week vacation in the middle of the school year. Some people want more rigor, but not if it means they can no longer take their vacations in late August. And finally, some people want more rigor, but not if it's going to mean the tourist industry might take a slight hit.

Does the American public, as a whole, really want more academic rigor in our public schools? Give me a break!


Blogger Great White Cory said...

First, I have loved the blog for awhile. Second, I'm posting this because you're noting hypocrisy and irony, and I thought this was kind of interesting (no matter your stance on the war):

8/30/2007 12:41 PM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

I don't know if this criticism is entirely fair, Dennis. It's not always easy to get laws pushed through, and the tourism industry has far more powerful lobbyists than just "parents". Also -- are you certain about who's blocking the increase in, say, school time? I imagine teachers' unions may also be opposed to lengthening the school day.

It also seems this might not argue for public education in particular. If you say that some people are very involved and interested in education while others less focused on it, this seems like an argument for school choice or even (!) vouchers.

8/30/2007 2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Does the American public, as a whole"

Right, 300 million people all want exactly the same thing.

You're just knocking down a straw man.

8/30/2007 4:35 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Crypticlife, I have often argued that a student who really wants a good education can get one in the great majority of public schools. Nevertheless, my post might be an argument for parents who really want academic rigor to send their kids to private schools. I'm not sure it's an argument for having taxpayers pay for it, however.

Anonymous, who's knocking down straw men here? Obviously, not everyone has the same opinion on anything. I have no doubt that a lot of the parents who read education blogs do actually want more academic rigor, but they are the exception and not the rule. I didn't think I had to spell that out in the post, but let me make myself perfectly clear: I am saying that the great majority of parents, and many others who aren't parents (like those in the tourism industry) don't really want more academic rigor in public schools--not when it comes down to what it really means in terms of the sacrifices and inconveniences that their kids and their families might have to put up with. I have heard politicians say things like, "The American people demand higher standards from our schools." I find that hypocritical and obnoxious.

8/30/2007 5:47 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

GW Cory, I apologize for not responding to your comment. I did read the article in your comment, and it is depressing. I have to admit that I supported going to war in Iraq, because I believed that they had weapons of mass destruction. That might be the all-time biggest "Oops!" in our history. I also thought that, having learned from our Vietnam experience, the Bush Administration and our military would have had a great plan for getting the country under control. Boy, was I wrong! Right now, I don't see any good options.

8/30/2007 6:04 PM  
Blogger Great White Cory said...

Actually, I should have been more clear about what I meant by the irony in the war article. It was way too subtle. I was thinking of the line about Bush accusing the benchmarks in the war as being impossible to reach, and putting blame on the high expectations in a tumultuous situation where there's not a whole lot of control...kinda like what's going to come around in the next decade with NCLB and all that. Irony, and all. Just thought that was an interesting parallel.

8/30/2007 6:47 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Great White Cory, now I get it. One of my all-time favorite lines from a movie is one spoken a number of times by Denzel Washington in "Philadelphia." It is a line that is too often necessary for me: "Tell it to me like I'm a six-year-old."

8/30/2007 6:58 PM  
Blogger M said...

oh yes well rigor only suits sometimes apparently. pfe.

how many weeks school holidays are there exactly over a whole year in the US?

8/31/2007 2:41 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

M, it varies from state to state and school to school. At Warroad, we get thirteen weeks during the summer, and one week + one day at Christmas. Then there's a day off here and two days off there. (We even give one day off for deer hunting in November.) Some schools get two full weeks at Christmas and one full week in the spring, but they start earlier or end later than we do.

8/31/2007 5:01 PM  
Anonymous Ian H. said...

I was trying to figure out where your extended summer came from... 'round here, we start at the end of August (I've had students since Tuesday), we usually have close to two weeks at Christmas, then we have a week in February, and a week at Easter, then we go to the end of June. I guess it all adds up to the same: ~80 instructional days/semester.

9/01/2007 9:26 AM  
Anonymous Betty said...

Too much structure and testing have to lead to frustration for students who need other outlets. I prefer to see caring and compassionate teachers who realize that each student is a sensitive person. All of this testing is ridiculous. Students will learn in a nurturing, challenging environment. Teachers are constantly being asked to jump through hurdles instead of being allowed to teach in creative ways.

9/03/2007 8:09 AM  
Anonymous Roger Sweeny said...


I don't know if you know but Joanne Jacobs has mentioned this post and accumulated 27 comments by now (I couldn't resist riding my hobby horse).

9/03/2007 10:29 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

I'm not even sure the public knows what rigor is, to be honest.

As for starting school after Labor district started on August 8th and now that we've had the hottest August on record in Tennessee, the move to push our start dates back to after Labor Day is gathering a lot of momentum. Honestly, August is always nightmarish hot and June is usually fairly mild so i makes sense.

9/03/2007 12:31 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Mrs. Bluebird, as I said in my post, I think the heat is a legitimate issue to bring up regarding when the school year should start and end, especially in Southern states. But when states change the school year because of pressure from the tourism industry, it's pretty hard to take their demand for more rigor seriously.

Roger, thanks for the tip. I've been traveling since early Friday morning, and I just got back. I had been checking this post for comments, but I hadn't had a chance to look at any other blogs, so I was completely unaware of that.

9/03/2007 4:49 PM  
Anonymous Laura said...

Here in NC our kids can't be required to go back before the 25th of August--I'm told because of tourism pressures. This, however, has not shortened the school year, as we don't get out until AFTER Memorial Day now.

Still, the last 2 years that it has been in effect, I can't help but feel like there are 2 more anti-productive weeks at year's end now.

9/09/2007 4:57 PM  
Anonymous lgm said...

It's not the length of the year that is troublesome, it's the number of days off during the year. This year we have 27 full days scheduled off during the school year (plus 10 half days for elementary). We go from Labor Day to the end of June. Needless to say, there are few parents that have the vacation days to cover all the days off. We could easily cut back to having Thanksgiving, Winter Break, President's Day and a day instead of a week for Easter and be done by Memorial Day. Behavior and learning would be improved too, as children would have less transitions back from the party atmosphere of vacation to the studious school atmosphere.
AP courses wouldn't be so rushed, as the kids would actually have the time in class to study the material before the exams. Those school personnel needing extra days off could use their personal days, as people in private industry do.

10/10/2007 9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


What if rigor has nothing to do with time, parent commitment, or structure of the school year? What if it has to do with our capacity as teachers to build rigor into the instruction and assessment we deliver to our students? If we are trained properly, and our students are trained properly, shouldn't the rigor naturally follow?

11/01/2008 7:58 PM  
Blogger sexy said...







3/03/2009 12:10 AM  

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