A High Tolerance: Late Start Dates Hurt College-Bound Students
A late school start aimed at tourism revenue undermines the efforts of college-bound students and parents.
After a friend of mine personally witnessed the horrific traffic in the Washington, D.C. area, he said, "the people here must have a really high tolerance for this craziness."
Recent articles in area papers reminded me of three major barriers to college readiness and admission. Late school openings, university admission policies for out-of-state and foreign students, and the misuse of honors courses represent barriers that sabotage years of work and effort on the parts of college-bound students and their parents. My friend was correct. These people must have a high tolerance.
Barrier #1: Late School Starts
Like many other areas of the country whose population consists of a high percentage of college graduates, the D.C. area, with several of the wealthiest large counties in the nation, demands that its schools and school systems prepare students for admission to the most competitive colleges and universities, particularly those in-state schools with lower tuition rates. In fact, test prep programs begin in elementary school preparing students for admission to the regions elite public magnet high school for the gifted, Thomas Jefferson. It is widely believed that admission to Jefferson guarantees admission to the State's most competitive and highly regarded university, The University of Virginia (UVA).
The reality is that attendance at Jefferson may actually reduce the chances of being admitted to Virginia, because the school's admission policies and desire for a diverse student body will not permit admission of a large number of students from the same high school. Actually, students who take a rigorous course of studies, which includes Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, at any of the area's surrounding high schools and who achieve at high levels probably have a statistically better chance of admission to UVA than do the "elite" Jefferson students.
Parents operate under the assumption that taking a heavy dose of Advanced Placement or IB courses and obtaining a passing score on the exams translates into earning college credits, which not only increases the chances of college admission but also ensures a significant cost savings, because the students will graduate sooner.
The problem is that Virginia's late school opening date makes it much more difficult to earn better scores on AP and IB exams. Virginia students are placed at a distinct disadvantage by a State law, called the "Kings Dominion law", which was passed in 1986 to protect the tourism industry. The law prohibits schools from starting before Labor Day. Because both AP and IB exams are administered beginning in the first full week of May, Virginia students have two weeks less instruction and preparation than many of their counterparts around the country, most of whom begin school in the third week of August. Virginia students start behind and the teachers spend the entire school year trying to catch them up.
Officials in Loudon County (VA), the nations' wealthiest large county, get it. According to a Washington Post article, "Loudon (County) officials argued that starting in August would give students more time to learn what they need to know for Advanced Placement and state Standards of Learning exams, which are generally administered in May or June. “The more we can do to prepare our kids in advance of those tests, the better off they’ll be,” said School Board Chairman John Stevens (Potomac)."
On one hand Virginia has made a sizeable investment in a system of high stakes testing and accountability that is one of the most rigorous in the nation. On the other hand, Virginia law places its own students at a disadvantage on national and international assessments. According to the report, Virginia's position was succinctly expressed by "Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax). He said sending students back to school early would cut into Labor Day weekend’s substantial sales tax revenue, and he hasn’t heard a compelling argument for giving up those dollars."
Other Peoples' Kids
Virginia's late school start date undermines years of parental encouragement and involvement and puts students at a two-week disadvantage when it comes to AP and IB exams. Would any of us set up a system that places our own child two weeks behind before the school year even begins? I think not.
Next: Barrier #2: Admission policies at state universities