Small Wonders: Make school as important as war

Summer vacation is here. I know this not because it's hot or because I saw it on the calendar. I know it because Burbank schools let my kids out for the year the Thursday before Memorial Day at 12:55 pm.

Not Friday. Not 1 or 2 p.m. — Thursday May 26, at 12:55 pm. As if they calculated to the minute the minimum amount of time the budget allowed them to have kids in class — factoring in furlough days, standardized testing days, prep days for standardized testing, and hours kids spent in informative “assemblies” where they learn how to sell cookie dough and wrapping paper for a small percentage of the profits after interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

That’s understandable.

With summer really still weeks away, and my requests to the Burbank Unified School District for a rational explanation unanswered, I'm left to imagine for myself why we’re starting summer vacation in the mild days of May, only to return in the heat waves of mid-August when kids will be forced to stay inside air-conditioned, over-crowded classrooms on smog-alert days. Glendale schools will be adopting a similar schedule beginning 2012-13.

It’s a decision that appears made not with our children's best interest in mind, but that of administrators who like the tidiness of getting an uninterrupted semester in before Christmas, and the orderliness of seeing first-graders follow the same schedule as graduating high school seniors bound for college.

So, since that’s the mindset, I think it's time to go whole hog. And I'm not talking barbecue. I’m talking year-round school, and not just because I have 11 weeks to keep my kids entertained and dread the cost of summer camp.

OK, maybe a little.

But with so much talk every campaign cycle about the importance of education, why on earth do we continue to accept fewer and fewer classroom days for our kids? We’re not preparing them to compete in a world getting smaller day by day. This might insult some peoples’ patriotism, but other countries may be doing a few things better than we are.

According to the Program for International Student Assessment — a study done every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development comparing students in the world’s 34 principal industrialized countries — America is hardly leading the way when it comes to education.

American 15-year-olds were 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.

Seriously, we’re losing to Finland, folks.

Now, I know that year-round school won’t solve the problem. We must continue to improve the quality of education, weed out underperforming teachers and make K-12 education a more attractive career choice for a new generation of teachers. But more class time would go a long way.

When teachers spend a month or more at the beginning of the school year re-teaching what was lost over summer break, coupled with too many non-teaching days throughout the year, we're losing valuable classroom time out of an already slim 180 day calendar.

Summer vacation was historically when kids were needed back on the farm before the harvest. But what kids are harvesting nowadays is bigger waistbands and more TV viewing hours. I appreciate letting them have those magical days of summer for relaxing and dreaming. But I'd rather teach them to dream all year long while giving them the tools to achieve those dreams.

Sure, I would have hated year-round school when I was a kid. But you know what else I hated? Brushing my teeth, vegetables and not being allowed to watch R-rated movies. Now I'm an adult and I know what is best for my kids: good hygiene, asparagus and more school.

They will get used to it. And so will we.

Will it cost more? Surely. But if we save this change for boon times, it will never happen. If we as a nation have accepted the fact that we're trillions in debt for the sake of spurious foreign wars, and that we’re spending billions to make life better for the youth of Iraq and Afghanistan, it shouldn't be a stretch for us to accept shifting some of that to our own children. Let's make education as important as we have war.

And you can have my summer camp money too.

If budget, fear of change and nostalgia are the best arguments against year-round school, then we need to take a hard look at our priorities. We can't call ourselves the greatest nation in the world if we're leaving our kids behind in it.

The answer to our flagging economy, and our societal ennui and lethargy, is not less school, but more school. As our kids advance in the world's economy, our nation will reap the rewards that follow.

And summer will always be there.

PATRICK CANEDAY hates waking up before his alarm goes off. He can be reached on Facebook, at and

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