There’s no free lunch . . . or summer school

Have you noticed the “Something for Nothing” Syndrome when it comes to public education in Colorado? It’s where opinion leaders and policy makers decide something good should happen, but commit nothing to making it possible.

Under the Syndrome, Colorado keeps adding to a list of important, beneficial outcomes — like increased proficiency on higher standards, improved literacy among young children, continuous improvement of instruction — and ignores the fact that schools need additional resources to meet the higher expectations.

In the last six years, the Syndrome has become even more extreme — the state has ratcheted up expectations while cutting more than $1,000 per pupil below inflation. Now we’re expecting a lot more something for even less than nothing.

The latest “Something for Nothing” example: a Denver Post opinion piece suggesting a year-round school schedule, while dismissing the need for more funding.

Another argument for maintaining the incomprehensible nine-week break is that it would be too expensive to pay teachers for the additional work.

However, a bright idea by the Brookings Institution suggests modestly increasing class sizes to free up resources to pay teachers for extra days.

“Increasing the school year by 30 days (six out of about nine weeks of summer vacation), and paying teachers the same rate per day would mean a salary increase of about $10,000,” the article says. “This could be accomplished — without any impact on overall spending on teacher compensation — by increasing class size by 3.3 students.”

It’s absolutely true that many students — particularly those who experience challenges to academic success like poverty, learning disabilities, and other special needs — would benefit mightily from a longer school year.   That’s why many school districts around the state would love to provide those services – if they could afford it.

Setting aside the fact that there are a lot more costs associated with keeping schools open in the summer than just teacher salaries, it is absurd to think that a state that already ranks 41st in student-teacher ratios would do its students any favors by adding another 3+ students to each classroom.

What will it take to stop “Something for Nothing” Syndrome? Reality-based education and good information.  The good news is, there are easy ways to help in your community.

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