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Learning Process
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On its website, the Los Angeles Unified School District has a message from Superintendent of Schools Ramon Cortines that says, in part:

For the 2011-2012 traditional school year, students in kindergarten through 12th grade will start school August 15, 2011 and get out on June 1, 2012.

Why change the calendar? Many principals sought the change for the academic benefits. Under the new schedule, students will finish the first semester and take finals before the winter break. That's preferred instructionally because research shows students tend to retain more of what they started learning in September if they are tested prior to a long interruption.

There are other advantages, too. Getting out early allows older students to take college courses in the summer, and it also helps those who are looking for jobs to be available earlier. Younger students can participate in reading adventures at public libraries, summer programs and camps that start earlier than the traditional late-June dismissal date.

I find the argument in the middle paragraph particularly specious. On the surface, it sounds great. Students will be able to regurgitate answers plugged into short term memory and will therefore do better on tests.

Take a wider view, though, and the faulty reasoning becomes clear: learning does not consist of passing a test by recalling temporarily memorized answers, but in retaining information for the long term and being able to incorporate that learning into a wider picture. What you've learned for life is truly learned; what is learned to pass a test but is forgotten over a two-week hiatus is not.

The points made in the third paragraph made me wonder to which students, to which families does Superintendent Cortines refer? The parents I know, both college-educated and working class, send their boys to sports camp and their girls stay home and babysit and learn to put on make-up (to be attractive to boys) and the younger ones play with dolls and watch television.

Or they play computer games and hang out at the mall. Not one of them was going to engage in a reading adventure at the local library or find a summer job (there aren't any in a county with 12% unemployment). Get real.

Perhaps the teachers want the change, to get out of school earlier in June. In mid-August, when the temperatures are in the triple digits, who cares if the students have to ride to school and home in non-air conditioned school buses? Air conditioned schools, restricted outdoor activities--yet we lament the fact that students (and adults) spend so much time in "couch potato" activities.

But it's a done deal, so there's no use complaining. Once again the theoreticians win, experimenting on yet another generation of children.

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