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MD Governor’s Decision Reinforces the Intractability of the School Year Calendar

October 14, 2016

In 2014 Republican Larry Hogan won the election for Governor in Maryland in a close election and since then has maintained public support by leading from the center. But as reported by Liz Bowie in the Baltimore Sun, earlier this year Mr. Hogan delved into controversial territory when he issued an Executive Order demanding that school’s in the state begin after Labor Day. His original order did allow the State Board to grant waivers to local boards for “compelling justification”, but when the State Board began developing a waiver process and it became evident boards would seek those waivers Mr. Hogan issued a clarification limiting the issuance to “…charters and schools with “innovative schedules.” This latest move has irritated State Board members and local board leaders across the state. One of Mr. Hogan’s State Board appointees, Chester Finn, protested the move because it “…would leave little room for school districts to do what they believe is best for students” while other officials see it as a usurpation of local control.

The fact is, whether school begins before Labor Day or afterward is ultimately changing the school calendar at the margins: it still retains the agrarian calendar put in place at the turn of the LAST Century when 90% of the children lived on farms and were needed to work in the summer. The school calendar with summers off has been virtually impossible to change since that time, especially in the Northeast part of the country where resort communities like Ocean City MD, who benefit from student labor, now push back against any kind of change.

In the 1990s when I led a school district in Western Maryland the USDOE launched a study that was Chaired by then State Board Chair Christopher Cross. Mr. Cross was one of many school leaders who saw the agrarian calendar as contrary to the late 1900s way of life and wanted to see school districts across the State of MD consider different year-round models, an initiative that was supported by some political leaders in the state because a by-product would be a more efficient use of schools that would preclude the need for new construction. But then, as now, the pushback came from resort communities who saw any change to the traditional calendar as eroding the summer travel schedules of families.

Some states did move toward year round schooling, driven mainly by burgeoning school populations that would have required massive school construction given increases in student numbers. But the intractability of the agrarian calendar remains… and, as Mr. Hogan is discovering, any changes to the calendar that are imposed from on high will be met with disdain.

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