For more than twenty years the educational and economic benefits of year round schooling have been debated in the United States. Experts agree that year round schooling may not be the answer to the problems of all school districts. However in more than 205 districts nation wide, problems have been resolved by year round schooling. First I need to explain that this is different from extending the school year; on a year round schedule, students attend school the same number of days-180-as students on the traditional nine-month calendar.
The difference is that year round education (YRE) students have several short vacations rather than one three-month summer break. Most year-round schools operate on a multi-track calendar, and group students in three or four tracks with different vacation times. While one group is on vacation, another track is using the building. There are many benefits to year-round schooling. One positive aspect of this type of schooling is better retention for children. After a short break the children are refreshed and ready to start again without having to review what has been lost over the summer.
At traditional schools, teachers spend weeks reviewing to bring children up to presummer levels. Kids on a year-round calendar learn faster, better and retain more. With shorter breaks, teachers have a much better chance of maintaining their academic skills. Not only do the children come back refreshed and ready to learn but the teachers themselves are refreshed and energetic. There’s no meltdown in the spring when the three-month summer vacation is about to begin. Better retention results in improved academic performance.
Studies have repeatedly shown that American high school students score well below students from other advanced countries in core academic subjects such as mathematics and history. These countries typically require longer instructional days and more of them than most American schools, where the eight-hour-per-day, 180-day-a-year model is standard (Worsnop,96). This type of schooling may be the answer to the decades-old concern that American students are being ill-prepared to compete with their counterparts overseas. By the most objective measure, test scores, year-round education seems to be working.
For example, before switching to its new schedule, Socorro schools had some of the lowest test scores in the country. Now Socorro students outscore the state average on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (Blackman,99) For many school administrators, the most persuasive argument in favor of YRE is that it offers a cost-effective way of relieving classroom overcrowding. Instead of renting commercial space, portable classrooms or constructing new schools– administrators can enlarge the capacity of existing facilities by converting them to year- round operation.
Implementing a year-round calendar extends the capacity of a school by 33 percent, according to NAYRE (National Association for Year-Round Education. ) The Oxnard Elementary School District is considered the pioneer of year round educational systems. Oxnard first reorganized their schedule in 1976. The driving forces behind the updated schedule were the increasing number of students in the buildings and lack of funds. Oxnard has had success with this arrangement. Building capacity has been raised by 2,000.
Had Oxnard not been able to reorganize the traditional schedule, they estimate that the spending of more than 20 million dollars, would be needed to build new schools (Pritchett,96). A year-round schedule makes fuller use of existing facilities, thus eliminating or postponing the need to build additional classrooms. The net effect of such arrangements is to substantially increase the number of students the school can accommodate. Some experts argue that year-round scheduling helps to deter juvenile crime, thus benefiting the entire community.
Although juvenile crimes occur throughout the entire calendar year, the school vacation periods and the peak periods of juvenile delinquency are closely related (Worsnop,96). In Chicago’s Oakland neighborhood, where almost three out of four people live in poverty and violent crime is an hourly occurrence, Holy Angels Elementary School provides the safety and structure its pupils need to make the most of their education, so most don’t mind taking a mere three week summer vacation (Worsnop,96). According to Charles Ballinger, executive director of NAYRE in San Diego, The September-June school calendar has outlived its usefulness.
It’s an invention of agricultural economy; Young people had to be free during summer months for farm work. They did not design it to enhance education. We need to cut back on the waste. We need to accommodate students who learn at a slower pace. We need to keep our school buildings in use so we don’t waste precious resources. Finally, we need to be able to perform as well as students in Japan, Germany, and France, year-round schooling will help to achieve that (Curriculum Review,95). Because year-round education differs so radically from tradition, community opposition is strong at the outset.
Yet parental attitudes become progressively more positive as the programs continue. For example, Cherry Creek (CO) District 5, which instituted year-round schooling in 1974, surveyed parents after the first year and found that two-thirds preferred the year-round schedule (Pritchett,96). Nationwide, other school districts have found similarly high levels of parental acceptance after the programs began (Science Teacher,97). Like parents, teachers in year-round schools have generally positive attitudes, and their acceptance of the new schedule increases over time.
Teachers experience few problems with vacation times. In fact, they feel that the more frequent breaks reduce burnout and help students retain more of what they have learned. Moreover, the frequent breaks during the school year enable teachers to visit and learn from other programs and other teachers (Blackman,99). Year-round education will become more prevalent for several reasons. First, the American lifestyle is changing. We no longer need the children out of school during the summer to tend farms and help out with family needs.
Secondly, there are educational pressures to change the structure of the school year. As we build up documentation showing that there is such a thing as summer learning loss, and that a way exists to curb that loss, the burden will be on schools and educators to take corrective action. I think the public will demand that. And finally, there are societal changes as well. People are questioning the wisdom of that long summer vacation. Social workers and law-enforcement officials don’t like the idea of kids having very little to do for up to three months, there’s too much chance for them to get into trouble.