TAWN PARENT Commentary: A law to help us reclaim summer

February 13, 2006

As I begin this column, snow is falling. But if I close my eyes I can already feel the heat of next August. I can also feel the disappointment that another summer has been cut prematurely short by the absurdly early start to the school year.

So I'm cheering the success in the General Assembly of legislation that would move the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress back to the spring. The House of Representatives on Feb. 2 approved a bill 52-47 that would change the timing of the test. Let's hope the Senate follows suit. That seems likely, given Gov. Mitch Daniels' strong support for the bill and the solid Republican majority in the Senate.

If the bill becomes law in its current form, ISTEP will move to the spring in 2008. It won't be a moment too soon.

Indiana is one of only seven states that test at the beginning of the school year. Since ISTEP moved from the spring to the fall in 1996, area schools have engaged in a steady game of one-upmanship, perhaps to see who can get kids back into classrooms first so they can get a jump on drilling for the test. Test prep is often the focus of the first few weeks of school leading up to the September ISTEP. Moving the test to the spring means schools wouldn't have to waste so much time on preparation.

There are other reasons for moving the test, among them that the test would measure what a student has learned during the current school year.

But for me, one of the best things about the law is that it might give us back August. The beginning of school has gradually inched up to the point that many area schools start in the first half of the month. Attending school seems much more appealing in early June than in the dog days of August, a time better suited to a dip in a cool lake. Keep in mind that most of Indianapolis Public Schools' buildings remain without air-conditioning.

And things could get worse. In some parts of the country, school begins as early as July 22. This madness has to stop.

The early school start affects other organizations that serve children. Last year, the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library "summer" reading program ended July 30.

And the school calendar puts a crimp in many people's travel plans. My family likes vacationing near friends and relatives in the Northeast, where late summer is prime time, but the early school start often gives us just one August week to work with.

You don't have to have children in school to be inconvenienced. Many swimming pools, both public and private, close before Labor Day or reduce their August hours because of the inability to schedule lifeguards who are in school. The Indiana State Fair and other tourist attractions, which generate tax revenue, after all, see their attendance drop off once kids head back to the classroom.

Around the country, people are getting fed up. Early school starts have spawned organizations such as Georgians Need Summers in at least five states to combat the trend. Seven states, including Minnesota and Wisconsin, set a date for the earliest possible start of the school year.

And a bill was introduced this year in the Indiana House of Representatives that would have prevented schools from starting earlier than one week before Labor Day. That bill never made it out of committee. But moving ISTEP to the spring might take care of this problem without the need for more legislation.

So let's pass the ISTEP bill and get on the road to putting August back in the summer, where it belongs.

Parent is associate editor of IBJ. Her column appears monthly. To comment on this column, send e-mail to tparent@ibj.com.
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