Why do the Schools in Atlanta-Metro start so early?

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Why Do Metro Atlanta Schools Start So Early?

Students at some Atlanta Public Schools have already resumed classes.
Credit Alison Guillory / WABE
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In some parts of the U.S., kids go back to school after Labor Day.

However, that’s not the case for students in metro Atlanta’s public schools. In fact, some students in the Atlanta Public Schools have returned to class already. Cobb County students return July 31.

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The remaining APS schools start classes Aug. 1. Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Clayton counties begin Aug. 7. 

Why do schools in this area start so soon? The root of the issue goes back decades. Officials worried starting after Labor Day was too late.

“What they were concerned about — and this goes back to education reform back into the ’80s — was assessments in the spring,” said Jeff Gagne, director of policy analysis with the Southern Regional Education Board.

Gagne addressed the issue on WABE’s Closer Look last summer. He said a lot of districts decided to start the school year earlier so teachers would have more time to prepare kids for standardized tests.

“Those assessments — which carried with it from the ’90s forward — high stakes in many cases, ‘Do kids get promoted? What kind of accountability rating does my school and district get?’ are based on those assessment scores and performance,” Gagne said.

On top of that, some districts like DeKalb and Cobb, recently switched to what’s called a ‘balanced’ calendar.

They kept 180 school days, the minimum amount required by law. But they shortened the summers  —  from about 11 weeks to nine — and added more breaks throughout the year. Some officials said shorter summers would help students retain more of what they’d learned.

There’s not a lot of research on whether balanced calendars help reduce summer learning loss. But Rachel Gwaltney, director of policy and partnerships at the National Summer Learning Association, said changing schedules around can be problematic for parents.

“In addition to nine weeks still being a fairly long break in terms of how (many) skills students are going to lose over the summer, the breaks that are created during the school year are going to recreate the issues that parents still face in the summer time in terms of finding regular child care, ensuring that kids have regular access to meals,” Gwaltney said.

Some parents are starting to make noise. More than 12,000 Cobb County parents have signed a petition urging the district to start school later next year.


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John H. Mason

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