Opinion: Don’t alter school calendar to increase pool of summer workers

Should the school calendar take into consideration the employee needs of summer tourism attractions in Georgia?

Should the school calendar take into consideration the employee needs of summer tourism attractions in Georgia?

T. Jameson Brewer is an assistant professor of teacher education at the University of North Georgia. In this inaugural guest column for the AJC Get Schooled blog, Brewer discusses the tourism-driven effort in the Senate to change the school calendar.

Tourist attractions say they are hurt by early August start dates because they lose student workers and vacationing families. A Senate study committee, largely comprised of tourism interests, is examining the issue and held its first meeting Tuesday.

Brewer discusses the resolution passed by the state Senate creating the committee, which states:

WHEREAS, the tourism industry is a critical component of Georgia's economic competitiveness as a state; and whereas, the Georgia travel and hospitality industry is the state's fifth largest employer; and the travel and hospitality industry supports more than 445,000 jobs for Georgians; and whereas, the travel industry has a total annual economic impact of $60.8 billion to the State of Georgia; and whereas, travel industry companies directly and indirectly generate over $3.1 billion in tax revenue for the State of Georgia and local communities; and whereas, the summer travel season is a prime revenue generator for the industry; and whereas many tourism and hospitality companies hire full and part-time summer workers from Georgia high schools and colleges and provide them with valuable employment experience; and whereas, varied school start dates affect both employment and visitation opportunities; whereas, the General Assembly needs to fully review and study the issue of varied school start dates to determine its economic impact to the travel and hospitality industry.

By T. Jameson Brewer

The Georgia Senate is eager to discuss – and apparently push for – the shortening of the academic school year for students in our state. The primary motivation outlined in the resolution for this endeavor is tourism and hospitality.

That’s right, tourism and hospitality – not academic concerns or impacts on students. According to the resolution, business considerations should be the driving force in conversations surrounding the length of the school year in Georgia because many companies rely heavily on employing students. Because these students cannot work as many hours for these companies during the school year, the Senate committee is seeking to potentially manipulate the school calendar to favor corporate interests over what is best for students.

What isn’t outlined in the resolution is that students who are employed by those industries are often employed as cheap, minimum wage, labor. In essence, the resolution suggests that education is an unnecessary burden dampening corporate profits that are magnified through low labor costs. Current school calendars that insist that students be in school for a comparable amount of time to other states are, seemingly, preventing companies from enjoying the additional profits created exploiting teen workers for a little longer in the summer.

The resolution makes it clear that the school calendar should be studied to “determine its economic impact to the travel and hospitality industry” and not once mentions the need to examine the calendar (shortening or stretching it) in relation to what impacts such a move would have on student academic achievement. While the resolution touts the economic impact that an elongated tourist industry would have on the state economy, what it ignores is the significantly larger impact that a quality education can have on a state’s economy through a properly educated workforce and the significant detriment to that same economy when education is not a fundamental focus.

Of additional concern is what shortening the school year would mean for the state’s large population of students living in poverty. Decades of educational research has found that long gaps between ending school and beginning the new school year can dramatically impact student learning and these effects are most damaging for our most vulnerable students. Unlike their more affluent peers, low-income students are unable to experience supplemental summer experiences such as camps, museums, trips, etc. that continue to provide educative opportunities.

In addition to what would likely be a detrimental impact on academic achievement moving forward, a majority of students in Georgia qualify for free and reduced lunch and find that the school year provides them with reliable access to food. Shortening the school year in favor of corporate profits would mean putting low-income students at an increased risk of greater food insecurity – this reality would, over time, exacerbate public health issues and related costs. Surely those costs outweigh the importance of helping the tourism and hospitality industries make a few extra bucks each summer.

While the testing regimen has already played a detrimental role in reducing pedagogy into teaching-to-the-test and driving teachers out of the profession, a shortened school year and no subsequent reduction in testing would mean that students and teachers would be forced to spend a higher percentage of in-school time preparing for and administering tests. And while the increase in the testing regimen over the past three decades has driven many teachers out of the profession, the considerably low salary has also played a detrimental role in attracting and retaining talented teachers. It is not inconceivable that many would call for teachers – who are already woefully underpaid for their work – to be paid even less since they will be “working less” as a result of a shortened calendar.

This is the first year in over a decade where schools in Georgia have been fully funded – pushing for shorter calendars to keep students working longer to bolster the profits of niche businesses is hardly forward thinking and certainly does not have student interests in mind.