The Whiteboard Jungle: School year should not start so early

One of the most asked questions I get as a teacher is why does school start so early in August instead of September.

Even though the change took place several years ago, as both a parent and a teacher I still am not used to summer ending with so much of the season remaining.

When Glendale children return to school on Aug. 10 (Aug. 8 next year), only 54% of summer days will have transpired, leaving 46% to come as part of the fall semester.

We should rename summer vacation "sprummer" or at least rebrand the first semester as the "sumfall" term.

Educators who work summer school only get two and a half weeks off before the new year starts. That is not enough time to recharge one's batteries in a field as demanding as education. The same goes for students who attend summer school; they get three weeks off. So, their summer vacation is basically the length of winter break.

The main reason why districts began the August shift is for secondary-school students to finish their semester before winter break, the notion that kids having two weeks off diminishes their retention level when, upon their return, final exams commence shortly thereafter.

Such thinking gets canceled out, however, since for the past few years Glendale students have had the whole week of Thanksgiving off, meaning they still end up returning for only a couple of weeks of class before finals.

Meanwhile, the elementary-school students don't need to start so early because they don't take final exams, making semester breaks meaningless.

Often overlooked is how hot it is in August, and that, despite most classrooms having air conditioning, children need to play and exercise outside, something that frequently gets curtailed with heat advisories.

Some states, such as Florida, have passed laws to push back the start of school to late August. The New York and Chicago districts, No. 1 and 3 in terms of size in the country, continue opening school the second week in September.

Over the years, I have found few people in favor of an early-August start date, so why aren't school districts listening?


Update on Harper Lee's "Go Set a Watchman"

As I commented last time, publishing the early version of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" was a mistake. Now that I have read the book, I can confirm that it was a monumental mistake.

There are parts of "Watchman" that exhibit a talented writer; however, the story is plotless and I found myself struggling through long-winded passages where essentially nothing happens. And then there's the less than idyllic portrayal of Atticus — not the righteous father figure he epitomizes in "Mockingbird."

What bothers me most is that by seeing how Lee originally intended to tell her story about racial issues in the South compared to the altered version two and a half years later in "Mockingbird," it is clear that Lee's editor in 1957, Tay Hohoff, deserves much credit in reshaping the novel.

It goes to show how even in a field like writing, which is viewed as the result of an individual's work, one can't assume that the author did it alone. What "Watchman" proves is that Lee needed significant assistance.

Sales for "Watchman" have substantially slowed down since its initial release two weeks ago, perhaps due to negative reviews and word of mouth.

Let's hope this doesn't ignite a trend of publishing early drafts of other great novels. I wouldn't care to read a version of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," where Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up still a miser, and ends with the death of Tiny Tim.


BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of "Smart Kids, Bad Schools" and "The $100,000 Teacher." He can be reached at