It’s not yet the dog days of summer, but it’s going to be a long hot one for many kids. Budget cuts have meant that school districts have cancelled summer classes and are even shortening the days students are in the classroom. Some cities have also had to close public swimming pools. While pools might seem a bit of a luxury to talk about given the financial issues many municipalities are facing, the closing of a pool is a significant loss to urban communities where there are few options for families who can’t exactly the afford to join a private club.
Ironically, the shortening of the school year comes at a time when educators have been trying to push things in the opposite direction, says the New York Times:
For two decades, advocates have been working to modernize the nation’s traditional 180-day school calendar, saying that the languid summers evoked in “To Kill a Mockingbird” have a pernicious underside: each fall, many students — especially those who are poor — return to school having forgotten much of what they learned the previous year. The Obama administration picked up the mantra: at his 2009 confirmation hearing, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared, “Our school day is too short, our school week is too short, our school year is too short,” but its efforts in this realm have not been as successful as other initiatives.
The most ambitious federal program in this realm is part of a $4 billion effort to overhaul 1,150 failing schools, in which each is required to select an improvement model that includes a new schedule increasing learning time. In the Denver suburbs, for example, Fort Logan Elementary School has used the federal money to add four and a half hours of instruction per week.
While some school districts, including Pittsburgh and Brandon, South Dakota, are keeping summer programs alive thanks to federal stimulus money or (in the case of Brandon), educators volunteering their time, the New York Times cites far more cases of districts trimming down the 180-day-calendar. In Oregon, students are now in the classroom an average of 165 days as districts negotiate furlough days with teachers’ unions. In Nevada, a new law sets 175 days as the minimum. In California, districts whose revenues for the upcoming school year are falling short only have to have a minimum of 168 days on the calendar. The minimum is 178 days in Hawaii, but in 2009, the minimum was down to 163 days.
The closure of swimming pools, especially in some of the US’s steamier spots — central Florida, Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston — is a sad loss. Pools are endangered species in times of budgetary woes as they’re only open for three months a year and come with substantial costs, including lifeguards, insurance and upkeep. A pool might seem a perk when it comes to the sacrifices communities have had to make, but they serve a crucial role in urban life as noted by Ed Gonzalez, a city councilman in Independence Heights, a historically black neighborhood in Houston whose median income was $27,000 in 2009:
… [Gonzalez] said the loss of a pool there would sting worse than in more well-to-do neighborhoods. “There are no other true community assets out there,” he said. “Your neighborhood park and your pools are the only real amenities that some of these communities have.”
.Mr. Gonzalez, a former police officer, said it was not just a matter of letting people beat the heat. The lack of a local pool, he said, could have an impact on public safety. “If kids do not have a productive thing to do, like swimming or community centers to go to,” he said, “it’s more idle time they have on their hands.”
More idle time, that is, on the top of the increased time kids are not in school as districts whittle down their calendars. Talk about a vicious cycle and further reason to feel that our country is earning a failing grade in preparing our kids for tomorrow.
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