Flexibility in setting schedules is good, up to a point, but going beyond that point creates unnecessary confusion and instability.
School calendars can change dramatically from year to year within the same school district, even with little or no change in the makeup of the school board.
We do not mean just the changes that occur because days of the week do not match the same calendar dates from year to year.
We are referring to changes that should have the status of policy. Boards should have policies regarding the relative lengths of the two semesters in the year (ideally zero difference, but as a practical matter as many as four days might be necessary) and whether or not the semester shall end before Christmas break.
Although policies can be changed by the board, and should in the event of unforeseen problems or a dramatic shift in public sentiment, setting a policy indicates a philosophical commitment that provides a better sense of stability.
Having semester lengths that are lopsided is not sound educationally, for obvious reasons, when most high school courses are designed to be one semester in length. In area districts, semesters have varied as much as 10 days, in one case adjusted down from a proposed 14 days.
When requesting input from staff and parents, the choice should be made bluntly clear - either school starts in mid August or the first semester ends after the Christmas break.
A suggestion for having semesters end after the holidays while avoiding post-holiday stress is having the semester tests two to three weeks before the end of each semester, which would be before the Christmas break for the first semester.
The remaining time after the semester test could be spent in individualized review of the test performance, with the potential for making up some of the loss from missed questions.
After all, if we have an assessment tool of student performances, why aren't we using it to benefit students who have not mastered the subject matter?
Too often, final tests are simply a judgment that has potential value to some future college entrance board but little value to the student being judged.