Beginning in the 1840’s, with the dawn of an organized school system, schools have operated on a partial-year basis. This system allowed rural students time off for harvesting and planting, while urban schools gave students time for summer vacation. In recent years, the movement towards year-round programs has gained attention. Students who attend year-round school have the same number of school days as their counterparts following a traditional schedule. The school days are spread more evenly over the year, with more frequent short breaks and the absence of a 10-12 week summer break. In 2009, there were 3,000 schools in the United States operating on a year-round basis. A year-round calendar would more closely mirror programs in Japan, India, and China.
Supporters of year-round programs point to an increase in quality and content.
- Stop “Summer Slide”: During extended vacation over the summer, a decline in academic skills and knowledge affects students. This “summer slide” varies across grade levels, subject matter and socioeconomic status. Almost all students experience a decline in math skills over the summer months.
- Eliminate summer boredom: The traditional American summer requires structure and activities to keep children interested and engaged. With shorter breaks, parents aren’t looking for ways to fill 12 weeks. Students look forward to the learning, socializing, and productivity school brings.
- The quality of education is improved: The stamina students have for new learning and rigorous material increases with frequent breaks built in. This allows educators to cover more material in greater depth. Disciplines like music and art have the opportunity to be included and upgraded in an extended school year. With an extended school year, less time would be lost reviewing materials at the beginning of the year, and more new learning can occur. Less time is spent teaching and re-teaching routines, and it takes students less time to get “in the swing” of going back to school with shorter breaks.
Critics of year-round programs point to disadvantages for children, parents, and local school systems.
- Additional costs: Extending the school year leads to increased cost to the school district. Administrative planning, staff development, storage space, air conditioning, expanded staffing requirements, utilities and transportation needs create costs which can discourage schools from implementing year-round programs. During the 2011-2012 school year, Virginia had more than a dozen schools operating on a year-round basis which reverted to a traditional calendar, citing cost as the basis.
- Teacher Training and Burnout: Without summer months off, teachers would need to pursue professional development and for-credit college courses required to maintain certification during the school year. Because of space, many professional development activities that take place in the school building would have to take place off-site, resulting in additional costs. Critics also point to teacher burnout as a disadvantage. With shorter breaks, teachers would have less time to recover from stress. Tired teachers are less able to plan, grade, manage behavior, and keep instruction engaging and rigorous. Students also use the extended summer break as a time to rest and recuperate from the demands of the school year.
- Extracurricular Activities: Students juggling extracurricular activities such as sports would face additional complications. Practice and competitions would have to take place during school session breaks, making scheduling vacations complicated. Compounded with the fact that schools operating on a traditional schedule would have to adjust their tournament schedules to match. Pursuing enrichment activities in band, sports, art, dance, or church becomes more difficult without summer months off for camp. This is a time students are traditionally able to explore in greater depth experiences they do not receive in school. Older students who depend on summer employment are also affected.
- Family Burden: Working parents would need to find a daycare provider that could accommodate the intermittent breaks that occur throughout the extended school year. Many schools operating on an extended school year operate on a “multitrack” system, in which one group of students goes to school while another group is on break. This system would pose another difficulty for families wishing to schedule vacations.
- Mixed Achievement Results: Supporters of year-round school point to the “learning loss” that occurs over long summer breaks. However, research has shown little relationship between extending the school year and academic performance. While economically disadvantaged students and ELL students showed academic advantages, it was not seen outside these subgroups.
Good idea or bad idea? What do you think? Let us know in the comments