By Teachers, For Teachers
If the national school schedule does change from traditional to year-round, it will undoubtedly have lasting effects on the family and the community.
Family vacations, child care, and routine living would be disrupted by year-round educational programs. Federal and local government agencies, individual communities, businesses, churches and private organizations would have to reconfigure their established calendar, recreational activities, public service programs, and pattern of operations. Ultimately, this will force a drastic change to the American lifestyle.
Would the benefits of year-round schooling be worth it? Will this reform really raise the impetus of student learning or is just another attempt to oversimplify the problems with education? As the seemingly simple concept of “year-round education” triggers a firestorm of debate throughout the country, it is important that we understand the pros, cons and realistic effects of saying goodbye to summer.
Traditional vs. Year-Round
The traditional American school year is designed around a nine-month schedule requiring 180 days in the classroom. This schedule was established when the United States was still a largely agrarian nation. At that time, this system was implemented because children were often needed to work in the fields during the summer. Since those reasons no longer make sense in this modern world, many people are advocating a shift away from this ‘antiquated’ 9-month school year in favor of year-round education.
According to the National Association for Year-Round Education, the trend is growing. Over 3,000 schools had year-round education programs last year. That is less than four percent of all schools, but it is four times the number of students in year-round schools ten years ago.
Despite what one might think, year-round school does not necessarily mean less vacation time.
How Does Year Round Education Work?
In the early 1900s, American schools began experimenting with year-round schedules, but the idea didn’t really become popular until the past two decades. The growing trend comes as a reaction to American students scoring poorly on national and international tests.
Year-round schooling is a misleading term; it makes many students imagine that they would have to say goodbye forever to summer traditions, such as summer camp or beach vacations. In reality, students in most American year-round school districts spend the same amount of days in class as students in traditional calendar schools; the days are just arranged differently, with smaller, more frequent breaks throughout the year. The summer break is perhaps only a month, instead of two or three.
Generally, year-round schools will continue to operate on an 180-day system, but those days will be spread out differently with shorter breaks between each term and no prolonged summer break. Though most students will not benefit from additional class time, the new system would implement an altered daily, weekly and yearly schedule arrangements meant to maximize retention and achievement.
The ten-month schedule with an extended summer vacation will be replaced by have several short vacations throughout the year 12 month calendar. The most popular example of year round education is the 45-15 plan. This has students attending school 45 days and then getting three weeks (15 days) off. The normal breaks (holiday, spring) are still prevalent in this calendar. Other options, including 60-20 and 90-30, provide some flexibility in how schools can organize the calendar to efficiently use their space and staff.
Some year-round schools may have all their students on the same schedule, however most year-round schools divide the students into different instructional and vacation tracks. These tracks are arranged so that there is always one group of students on vacation.
Single-track year-round education involves an entire school using the same calendar and getting the same holidays off.
Multi-track year round education has groups of students attending school at different times with different vacations. Multi-tracking usually occurs because it is a way for school districts to save money because they can accommodate more students without hiring more teachers or building more classrooms.
Year-round education is a very complex topic with many variables that must be considered, not the least of which is the motivation behind a school district’s decision to change their current calendar.
The advantages of year-round schooling are both educational and fiscal. On the education front, year-round education facilitates continuous learning as the students are not ever out of school for a long period of time. As a result, the students forget less over the shorter breaks and teachers spend less time reviewing pre-vacation material. Another substantial benefit of year-round education is that schools can offer an extra session of remedial and enrichment classes to select students between sessions.
From a financial standpoint, school districts can implement multi-track year-round schooling as a cost-cutting measure. For example, with one group of students always on vacation, a school that was built for 750 students can serve as many as 1,000. This allows school districts with little or no money for building expansions to handle a growing student population and save millions of dollars in construction costs. Furthermore, the per-pupil cost decreases with year-round schooling despite the increased overall cost of operation.
Do these theoretical advantages actually pay off? In some instances, students in single-track year-round schools have shown improved achievement scores over those in traditional schools, but the single track doesn’t do much for district budgets.
Overall, the results so far have been mixed and inconclusive.
Academic Reasons to Support Year-Round Education
If year-round school does not mean that students are in class more days, why do some education officials believe that students will perform better by simply changing the scheduling?
- Avoid teacher and student burnout with more frequent breaks
- Avoid wasting time on fall review after prolonged summer breaks
- Avoid ESL students fall behinding from not being exposed to English during the long summer breaks
- Student requiring academic support get more immediate interventions rather than waiting for summer school
Supporters say year-round systems improve academic performance. They point to Japan, where student scores are higher than those in the U.S. and where students attend classes 220 days a year on average as against to 180 days in America. But there is plenty of debate.
Schools Try Year-Round Schedule
Throughout the country, two million youngsters are attending year-round schools, mainly in California, Texas, Florida and Kentucky.
Several years ago, many Texas districts adopted year-round calendars, but nearly half switched back. School officials said the program did not improve academic performance substantially and they were unable to win the cooperation of parents; it was simply too hard to fight tradition.
By contrast, the Oxnard, California, school district has a long record of successful year-round schooling. It has been on a year-round calendar since 1976 and a nine-year analysis shows significantly improved test scores, without changing the basic education program.
Of course, academic performance is not the school districts’ only concern. By switching to a year-round schedule on a multi-track system (with several groups of students rotating), schools can confront the conflict between shrinking budgets and every-increasing enrollment. Districts will still cut overall costs with this system, even when with increased maintenance costs and teacher salaries.
This misunderstood modified school calendar has some educational advantages for all students. Though many communities and many teachers are opposed to or afraid of trying year-round education, they might change their minds after seeing Minnesota’s modified schooling calendar in action.
Minnesota Schools Find Success with Year-Round Schedule
In Minnesota, there are 27 year-round educational programs. They are succeeding wherever they start. In the Cambridge-Isanti School district, year-round school programs for grade kindergarten through nine are succeeding so well that parents there are asking for a senior high year-round school option. The Cambridge elementary and middle year-round schools operate side by side with little controversy due in part to strong school board, administrative and staff support. The middle school, called the Minnesota Center, grew out of a need for space. Today 144 students in grades five through nine attend the year-round program, easing the need for space in the district’s other two middle schools.
The elementary year-round school, however, evolved from a grant and parental desires. It is housed in the same building with the regular elementary program in Isanti. Parents are enthused about the program because it is an option not a requirement. No child is forced to attend the year-round school programs. Students start school on August 1st and have nine-week sessions and three-week vacation breaks as well as five weeks off in the summer. When the students return for class they spend little time reviewing subject matter and are ready for new material. The different break times give parents an opportunity to go on vacation other than during the summer. The year-round school is particularly attractive for students who have special needs or who are gifted. As long as year-round education is being offered as an option for parents in Cambridge and Isanti, it continues to be supported.
Critics challenge the idea that year-round schedules improve grades, and have raised other concerns as well, especially for multi-track districts and the potential disruption it can cause to family life.
- Family with kids in different schools operating on different tracks could have a tough time scheduling day care or family vacations.
- Mothers who teach could no longer count on sharing a summer/ break schedule that would save money on childcare.
- Sports teams in competing districts could have different schedules, so athletes may have games scheduled during breaks.
- If you participate in sports in a multi-track school, other team members may be on a different track, which would make it very hard for everyone to coordinate practice times.
- Some students worry that they could not attend summer camp, although most students could still go to a camp of some type during their summer inter-session.
Older, students are likely to be resistant to this radical change and experience difficulty in adjusting to a year-round schedule since they have grown up with a three-month summer break. Additionally, many high school students and their families count on the extra income of summer jobs to make ends meet, save money for college, learn about financial responsibility or to simply earn spending money. In response to these concerns, supporters of year-round schools acknowledge that year-round schooling is often more successful in elementary schools because student schedules get more complicated as children get older. They also recommend implementing a single-track system across district(s), nullifying many of the advan¬tages of the multi-track system.
And the Winner is?
Districts from New York to Los Angeles are experimenting with year-round calendars and hoping to make positive changes to improve student performance. The answer seems to be dependent on quality testing, experimentation and evaluation.
It is often difficult to isolate the year-round calendar as the reason for any positive or negative results because the biggest gains were made in schools that were taking a multifaceted approach to improve the overall quality of education. Implementing the year round schedule was just one of their efforts to achieve this end. The question then becomes: how much of those educational gains are due to the schedule change?
In addition to thorough research, no effort can be successful without the support of parents, students, teachers and administrators. Without that support, any school adjustment is bound to fail. Ultimately, schools that are investigating year round education need to decide what they are trying to accomplish and whether a new calendar will move them further towards their goals. The quality of the American education system depends on it.
Where do you stand in the year-round education debate? Share in the comments section!