School in Early August?
Oakland Unified is planning to start school on Aug. 13 next year, and some parents and camp directors don’t like it.
Oakland school board member Jody London voted against the earlier school year start.
Photo by Lori Eanes
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If there’s a hot trend in education, Oakland Unified seems compelled to give it a shot: First it was charter schools, then small schools, and now it’s lots of schooling in August.
Starting next year, Oakland will once again move up the start of the school year—this time to the second week of August with classes likely ending in May.
It’s only a week’s difference, but it cements a redefinition of summer vacation over the past two decades that has upset some parents and confounded summer camps operators trying to serve students in districts whose school calendars have diverged.
The upcoming change in Oakland will result in its students starting school two weeks before their counterparts in Berkeley, which is starting to explore a far more drastic calendar readjustment.
“It’s definitely going to be a big deal for us,” said Josh Cohen, director of operations for Sarah’s Science Camp, which draws most of its students from the two districts. “It’s something we wish wasn’t happening.”
Oakland school officials pushed forward with the upcoming calendar shift for three reasons: Aligning the school year with the Peralta Community College District to make it easier for high school students taking classes at Peralta campuses; ending the fall semester before the winter break in December; and getting more instruction time before standardized tests, which take place in April and May.
District spokesperson John Sasaki said students tend to focus less once the tests are over. “This is a matter of trying to optimize the learning for our students every day that we can,” he said.
Oakland parents unhappy about the shifting calendar are worried that their children will have limited summer camp and internship opportunities if school lets out in late May. Many are also nostalgic for the summer break they had as kids.
“I’m open to the possibility that there may be compelling reasons to move up the school year, but the justifications I’ve seen don’t resonate with me,” said Adrienne DeAngelo, the mother of a middle school student. “I think summer break should be over the summer. I’ve been upset with every additional week that my family’s summer has been impinged upon.”
Ken Rice, father of an elementary school student and former school board member, bristled at the idea that AP exams and state tests were helping drive the push to an earlier school year. “It’s nuts,” he said. “School should be about kids enjoying learning, not standardized test scores.”
Both parents have an ally in Oakland school board member Jody London, who wanted to see the district gather more community input before further moving up summer vacation.
In May, she facilitated a meeting between a few dozen parents and Kyla Johnson-Trammell—who officially became the district’s superintendent on July 1—about the calendar change. But that was the extent of the outreach, London said. In June, the school board approved the schedule change 4-2, with London and board member Nina Senn dissenting.
“I might be OK with changing the school calendar,” London said. “But I need to know that the community is OK with it and understands why the changes are being made.”
Sasaki said there will still be time for parents to have input into the final day of the school year and mid-year breaks. But, he added, the school calendar has historically been hammered out with the teacher’s union with minimal public input. “This is part of a labor issue,” he said.
For decades, there wasn’t much to haggle over. Like nearly every district in the Bay Area—and across the country—Oakland schools started after Labor Day until about 15 years ago.
With President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind emphasizing standardized tests, many districts started moving up the start of school to increase instructional time before the tests, said John Rury, a historian of American education at the University of Kansas.
While the Northeast has mostly held firm to starting school in September, many districts in the South, including Atlanta’s, rearranged their calendars to start classes during the first week in August.