Editorial: Detroit, follow Flint's school calendar

The Detroit News
Flint students will start school Aug. 7 and end classes June 18, with six breaks of four to 10 days during the year.

Kudos to Flint Community Schools, which has decided to extend its school calendar in an effort to reduce brain drain during long summer breaks. It’s a solid plan that should help boost learning for students, as well as give teachers more prep time. 

It’s also a model we encourage more schools to consider, especially those districts with the highest number of struggling students. 

Moving to a “balanced” or year-round calendar for the upcoming school year will still include the mandated 180 days of instruction, but those days will be spread out more evenly throughout the school year. For instance, Flint students will start school Aug. 7 and end classes June 18, with six breaks of four to 10 days during the year. 

The Flint district piloted the balanced calendar approach at one of its elementary schools the past three years, and Superintendent Derrick Lopez says the results are positive among students, teachers and parents. 

So now the year-round calendar will be extended throughout the district. 

“Because there are shorter breaks under the balanced calendar, kids don’t lose that muscle memory around what is expected of them,” Lopez told The Detroit News. 

While dozens of other Michigan districts have similar models in place, Lopez says Flint is the “first major city” in the state to implement the balanced calendar. 

Flint students need a new approach. Students in the district have test scores far below the state average. Less than 11 percent of third graders scored proficient on a recent state standardized test. Less than 5 percent of seniors were college ready based on SAT results. 

While a balanced calendar is not a silver bullet, it certainly can’t hurt for districts to try. 

It’s also advocated by the state Department of Education as a way to make Michigan a top 10 state in education. Currently Michigan is in the bottom 10. 

One obstacle districts currently face in trying to move to a year-round model or even an earlier start date is the state’s restrictive post-Labor Day policy. The law mandates schools start after the holiday, which is a boon to the tourist industry. 

Lawmakers have attempted to remove that restriction in recent years, but those efforts have failed thanks to intense lobbying. Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, is the latest to try, and his colleagues should support him. 

If any district could benefit from a year-round calendar, it would be the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Yet the Detroit Federation of Teachers shot down a proposal from Superintendent Nikolai Vitti this spring that would simply have extended the school calendar with a pre-Labor Day start and five additional professional development days for teachers, along with a couple other minor changes. 

More:Detroit teachers reach agreement for pay raise next year

While Vitti was frustrated his plan was blocked, he isn’t giving up. 

“I do think it’s important we start earlier,” Vitti told our editorial board in May. “I think we’re losing an opportunity to build off what we’re doing during the school year when we have all of that summer off.”

In the meantime, more districts should look to Flint and follow the impact of the balanced calendar.