In Defense of that BPS Calendar Change

Tommy Chang has recently proposed a change to the Boston Public Schools Calendar that would make the school year begin in late August and end in early June, remove February break, and expand winter break.

Given how stubborn Bostonians are, and how tough change is to make here, and how much is at stake in these negotiations, I am not placing any hopes on the change. In fact, I can see plenty of reasons it’s not a great idea (and according to the Union the idea wasn’t supposed to be made public at this point at all). That being said, since it already has been explained in a Globe article, I want to make one quick plug in its defense.

I teach an Advanced Placement course, and for AP students, the change would be a big deal.

Where I grew up, in Florida, school started in early August (yes, back when I was a child in Tampa, we began school the first week of August) and ended in mid-May. AP Exams were only a week before regular exams, and for some classes, they were at the same time. Then school was out. We almost always covered all content, without issue, before the exam.

Now, I am challenged with teaching students the same amount of content southern students are asked to learn, but with far less learning time. Boston students started this year on September 8 and don’t get out til the end of June. My AP students will take their exam on May 11, which is barely 3 weeks into fourth term. That means they have had 30 weeks to learn content that I, as a child, had 36 weeks to learn.

Perhaps if you aren’t a teacher, four to six weeks isn’t much of a difference, but to the teachers who are reading this, six weeks is enough time for an entire unit of learning. It is enough time to master an entire new skill, to read a whole work of literature, to write an extended research paper. That is a lot of learning.

And Boston’s AP students could use the boost of extra learning time. The most recent data I could find was from 2012, but in 2012 only 45% of Boston’s AP students who took exams scored a passing grade of 3 or higher. And for students of color, the passing rate is even worse: only 25%.

I have 25 students taking the AP English Language exam in five weeks. I have worked them to the bone this year, and I am so proud of how far they’ve come. But even now I can imagine having six more weeks with them to work on content and to solidify writing habits and to teach new strategies and read more great texts… and I wish I had the time!

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