Longer school year needed in Minnesota


The term “flexible learning year” in Minnesota is a slippery one, mostly because Minnesota’s school year has traditionally been less than flexible.

Minnesota state law requires school districts to start school after Labor Day. This was put into place to allow students to attend the Minnesota State Fair and to work in the tourism industry, which is still viable through September.

Districts could apply for a waiver to start early, called a “flexible learning year.” Many years, it was approved only if there was a problem with building construction.

However, next school year a consortium of 25 southwest Minnesota school districts will start school on Aug. 23. This is important because this would add about 10 school days before standardized testing in April. The federal No Child Left Behind law assesses schools based on student scores in standardized tests offered only once each year. If students do poorly on the test, the school faces an ever-deepening series of sanctions. Therefore, it is in the district’s best interest to get as many school days as possible before the test.

The Mankato Free Press reported Thursday that representatives from about 20 southern Minnesota schools met to discuss applying for a similar flexible calendar for 2011-12. The schools are looking at the other parts of the southwest schools agreement: Each district is contributing $10-per-pupil to a collective staff development fund and will stay in the consortium for a minimum of three years.

Mankato Area Public Schools business manager Jerry Kolander told the Free Press “we’re all looking for better ways to deliver instruction to students.” He was also impressed with the ability to get 25 districts to agree on one plan. “It’s quite a feat to get 25 school boards to agree to a similar calendar,” he said.

Some of the districts in the 25-member consortium include Sleepy Eye, Comfrey, Worthington, Windom and Marshall. In addition to Mankato, districts at Thursday’s meeting included St. Peter and New Ulm.

NCLB is a failed program, but its consequences are very real. Schools need every advantage they can get to teach to the test. This “flexible learning year” will help these schools achieve quality test results.

More important, however, is that the flexible learning year takes Minnesota one step closer to having a longer school year. In order to remain viable in the 21st century workplace, our state must prepare our children to compete with workers from Boston to Seattle, Singapore to Oslo. Three months off in the summer is counterproductive to that goal. Hopefully, the 25 southwestern Minnesota schools have opened the door to a longer and better school year.