Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Hot Topics/Year-Round Schooling
The school system was established when the United States was mostly an agrarian nation, basing it on a ten-month system. The reason for this system was because children were often needed at home to work in the fields during the summer months. Times changed and many people felt the need to do away with the ‘antiquated’ system and move toward year-round education. In 1904, the year-round educational system was implemented for the purpose of solving the problem of overcrowded schools. The trend ended with the advent of World War II, beginning again in 1967. Today, the system is used to solve many other problems the educational system has been faced with. There are 3,181 schools involving 1,118,608 students using alternative calendars.
With the mounting dissatisfaction of U.S. elementary and secondary education, there is much interest in year-round schooling. Repeated studies show that American high school students’ scores are well below students from other advanced countries, especially on core academic subjects, such as mathematics and history. These students typically have longer and more instructional days than most American schools. For example, German, French, and Japanese children spend more than double the time studying basic subjects such as math, reading, history, and science than do American children (Gregory, 1994). Although only a small percentage of school-age children attend year-round schools, the numbers are steadily growing; however, there is still much controversy over the positive aspects of year-round education versus the traditional school year. The term “year-round” is actually misleading, with other more descriptive terms being “continuous learning,” “all-seasons learning” and “four-seasons school.” The purpose of the year-round school is not to be used as an alternative curriculum for learning but as “a reorganization of the school calendar into instructional blocks and vacations distributed across the calendar year to ensure continuous learning” as defined by Quinlan, George and Emmett (1987).
Both traditional and year-round students attend school approximately 180 days per calendar year. The difference between traditional and year-round students is that traditional students attend for approximately nine and one-half months with a two and one-half months vacation, while year-round students attend school for twelve months, with shorter breaks during the school year. There are different options that schools can use for the year-round schedule, such as the single-track and multi-track pattern. The most common pattern for year-round student vacations/breaks is called the “60/20 calendar,” meaning that the students attend school for 60 days followed by a 20-day break, occurring three times during the school year. According to Eric Stone, Principal of Merrimack Elementary School, “Hampton City Schools have tweaked its balanced calendar (which is how he referred to the year-round schedule) to include two 9-day intersessions, one in the fall and the other in the spring, each followed by a 7-day vacation.” Mr. Stone expressed that he felt other schools have adopted a year-round calendar strictly as a way to address the need for physical space. He gave me the example of some year-round schools in California where students and teachers pack up their supplies at the end of the school year and a whole new group of students and teachers occupy the same classroom the next day.
“Summer Brain Drain” and the Achievement Gap
According to Duke University psychology professor, Dr. Harris Cooper, the average student test score in a traditional school is one month lower when they return in the fall than before their summer break. The lack of retention is most evident in math and reading skills. Information that is memorized such as math computations and spelling words carry the lowest level of retention and are therefore most likely to be damaged by the “summer brain drain.”
This summer retention problem is more pronounced in students with lower socio-economic status. Math retention suffers across the board because parents are less-likely to review math skills over the summer break. Students in higher socio-economic classes are more likely to retain their reading level over the summer month and in some cases improve a few levels. This is due to the likelihood that their parents are more likely to see reading as an important skill and encourage their children to read over the long summer break. According to Ron Fairchild, Executive Director of the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University, by the fifth grade the reading level of low-income students at traditional schools are on average two years behind that of their high-income peers.
The issue of year-round education has many advantages, with information retention at the top of the list. Long summer breaks encourage students to forget knowledge they have learned the previous year, forcing teachers to spend weeks reviewing what was taught the previous year, which is time that could be used teaching students new information. A less interrupted flow of instruction, along with remedial reviews offered during breaks, is advantageous even to the slowest learner. For instance, Brenda Teeter, a science teacher who is participating in year-round schooling made the observation that “the year-round program is particularly good for at-risk students because they don’t have that long summer to forget what they struggled so hard to learn” (Gregory, 1994). With better information retention, reducing the number of students retained in grade and allowing more students to excel in their studies, more students are obtaining a high school diploma rather than the traditional student drop-outs due to the frustration of not being able to retain information throughout the summer and getting further behind in school work the following year. A great way that the education system has been able to measure the success of year-round schooling is by looking at test scores of which many of the results have been positive. One school district in Texas, Socorro, was known to have “some of the lowest test scores in the county” when they were using the traditional school calendar (Gregory). After Socorro schools switched to the year-round schooling schedule, however, the students ‘outscored the state average on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills’ (Gregory).Another factor in less school drop outs is that fact that with more breaks, students tend to be absent less often, aiding in better grades. Students with learning disabilities that are worked with year round are aided by this program because shorter breaks makes going back to school for them less of an ordeal and also allows them to progress increasingly faster than they would on a traditional schedule. Another advantage is cost-effectiveness, to both the school system and the parents. By using the single- or multi-track system, schools do not lay empty for three months, but are being put to use all year, accommodating more students instead of having to build more schools. With the schools being in use all the time, there is less school vandalism. Studies show that most of school vandalism is caused by students with too much free time during summer break who get bored, turning to vandalism and other crimes. Since the majority of American families have both parents working outside the home, students in year-round schools are not left by themselves as often. Another positive factor for parents is that they have less child-care expenses with the children in school year round, with many have the option of putting younger children in programs during intersessions at a cost less than day care. Year-round education also benefits teachers’ attitude because they are less likely to be stressed or burned out with more frequent breaks. They can also use the time available in between sessions to plan new and interesting lesson plans. One teacher stated that she was sold on it because she was able to catch her breath and “come back and hit it hard again.”
In addition to the perceived benefits of year-round education, research also shows perceived drawbacks. Such concerns include issues such as the cost of utility bills due to the constant use of school buildings, especially during the summer months when air conditioning can be very costly. Not to mention older schools that do not even have air conditioning. Many parents are concerned that without the traditional summer breaks, family vacations will become a thing of the past. Also, students are unable to attend summer camp or work summer jobs earning extra money. In an interview with Mrs. Michelle Koontz, a teacher at Woodside High School, she expressed that she feels “…in High School it is good for the students to be off all summer so that they can get jobs and learn skills.” She feels that summer jobs help them learn the responsibility of holding a job and paying for their own things. Teachers also encounter such challenges as organizational issues, especially those in multi-track YRE because four different teachers might be required to share three classrooms throughout the year. Thus, packing up their materials and moving out of their classrooms for the 3-week break and into a different classroom upon their return. In the overall scenario, moving day would include rolling carts, storage space and available custodial assistance (Worthen & Zsiray, 1994). There is a unanimous concern by teachers in multi-track schools regarding moving and lost materials (Quinlan, George & Emmett, 1978). Having students in school year round doesn't keep them from forgetting what they have learned. "Students are going to forget information whether they are out of school for three weeks or 10. Therefore, teachers will be performing four beginning of the year reviews instead of just one" (Kelly, Melissa).
Cons to Pros
The No Child Left Behind’s costs are not only reflecting the funding but also on the instructional time, staff time, administrative time as well as human resources time. Several school divisions refer to opportunity costs as time that could have been used for other sources within the curriculum. Although, instead of the available time for opportunities of enhancing a child, the time was spent on some form of testing which can be distinguished into three categories: preparation, test administration, and loss of services and instructional time.
The preparation of testing is complex and often consists of multiple school staff employees to complete the tedious tasks. For example, the testing material arrives at a school district in October and before any testing begins, each test booklet must have the accurate number of data labels as well as test booklets. Prior to and after the testing, the three versions of the test for each grade level must be stored in a confined and secured area. When all testing has been completed, the testing materials are to be returned to the school board office (central office), properly packed, and shipped to be scored. Among the entire staff, guidance counselors along with secretaries spend the majority of their time in preparation for the logistics. The average amount of time spent to complete the tasks range between ninety and ninety five hours.
Test administration has lead to difficulties with the scheduling. “Paraprofessionals spent a per-district average of one hundred and two hours assisting teachers with testing. Teachers spent a per-district average of nine hundred and seventy six hours administering tests. Administrators’ spent a per-district average of sixty two hours in various testing tasks” (Chmelynski, 2006, p. 44). The testing criteria is at times so demanding and intense in that substitutes are often required to administer the students during testing. Often school divisions have to adjust the schedules in order to accommodate the testing.There is a loss of services for the disadvantaged students. For example, the special needs students in actuality need the instruction more so than the advantaged students. “One huge consequence is that the testing shifts the focus, for at least a month, from learning to testing. This plays out in many ways from the time actually testing to loss of guidance and reading specialist support to loss of administrative support”( Chmelynski, 2006, p. 45).
Single and Multi-tracking
Single Track provides a balanced calendar for a more continuous period of instruction. Students and all school personnel follow the same instructional and vacation schedule. Single-track does not reduce class size, nor does it allow a school to accommodate more students. The long summer vacation is shortened with additional vacation days distributed throughout the school year into periods called "intersessions." Intersessions allow time for remediation and enrichment throughout the school year. The most common types of single-track calendars are 45-15, 60-20 and 90-30.
Multi-Track is used primarily to alleviate overcrowding, although it also incorporates the educational values of single-track YRE, including intersessions. It was designed specifically for schools with a shortage of classroom space. Multi-track is used to avoid double sessions, building new schools and temporary structures. It not only saves on capital construction costs, but on the ongoing costs that are part of operating a new school. Multi-track divides students and teachers into groups, or tracks of approximately the same size. Each track is assigned its own schedule. Teachers and students assigned to a particular track follow the same schedule and are in school and on vacation at the same time. Multi-track creates a "school-within-a-school" concept Multi-track divides students and teachers into groups, or tracks of approximately the same size. Each track is assigned its own schedule. Example: implementing a four-track year-round calendar extends the capacity of a school by 33%. A school with the capacity of 750 students can accommodate 1,000 students, as only three tracks of 250 would be in school at the same time; there would always be one track on vacation or intersession every day of the school year. A five track model (60-15) allows for a 25% gain in capacity.
Many year-round schools provide extra classes during their intersession breaks that students are offered but not required to attend. Timber Lane Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia provides classes in “diverse offerings ranging from academic topics as math to such hobbies and sports as gardening, photography, and soccer”(Haser 2003). Teachers are given the option to work during these periods. This part-time work provides some extra income as well as gives the teacher a chance to pursue something else that they are interested in.
The flexible schedule that is provided by these intersessions also provides the accommodations to allow teachers who are on maternity leave to slowly enter back into the work force. A teacher was quoted saying “ I teach three intersessions a year and find the experience rewarding. I’m able to earn money, be with children, and use my skills as an ESL specialist. When I was pregnant, I thought about changing to a career in real estate while I stayed home, but the intersession teaching option has changed that. In another year, I think I’ll be ready to go back to teaching full-time.”(Haser 2003).
On top of all these benefits teachers are also given the opportunity to take vacations during the off seasons, “Such as visiting Italy in October” when it is much cheaper. Also most teachers feel that this schedule makes our career one that is viewed as much more professional then the way in which people view the traditional scheduling (Haser 2003).
Along with the teachers, the students also endure great benefits from year round schooling; even if though they might not agree. Studies have shown that when students attend school year round that they have a more continuous learning pattern. This helps the students remember things easier and it makes the need for review less necessary. By having a shorter vacation period students will not have to worry about forgetting lessons they were taught right before the break. Another great benefit is that during the break periods students are given the option to take classes over they might have failed. With this students are given the chance to retake a class with out having to wait until the next school year and falling behind all the other students. Now they are given the chance to keep up with their classmates if they are struggling in certain areas. Many people have also noticed an improvement in students overall school performance. By having shorter periods in school and out of school, it helps the students to stay motivated and excited about school. They are less stressed out and enjoy it more.
Year-round schools are clustered in certain regions and states according to Charles Ballinger, National Association for Year-Round Education’s (NAYRE) executive director, who notes that “83 percent of our year-round schools currently are west of the Mississippi,” and that Eastern schools have been “far more resistant to change.” One explanation as to why year-round education is occupying only a tiny niche in American primary and secondary education is the negative attitude shared by many parents and educators. The fact is that 76 percent of year-round schools are in California, Florida and Texas, probably because these three states have experienced robust population growth in recent decades, causing severe school overcrowding. In today’s world where there is constant change, year-round education seems to be a change in which many parents and educators are not willing to accept. Is this resistance justifiable or is fear of change a primary factor in the resistance of year-round education? Mr. Stone believes it is. He stated that “When families first come to register [for school], many panic and students cringe when they hear ‘Merrimack is a year-round school’.” Does it make sense to use an outdated schedule when we want the newest and the best in every other aspect of our lives? Although the year-round schedule may not be the answer to all educational problems, it certainly is an option to consider!
Multiple Choice Questions
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- Chmelynski, Carol. (2006) Extend School Day and Year for NCLB? The Education Digest, 71(7), 41-44.
- Gregory, S. S. (1994). Everyone into the School! Time Magazine. Retrieved November 9, 2007, from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,981176,00.html
- Haser, Shelly Gismondi, and Ilham Nasser. "Teacher job satisfaction in a year-round school." Educational Leadership 60.8 (May 2003): 65-67. General OneFile. Gale. Old Dominion University Library. 10 Nov. 2007. http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=ITOF
- Kelly, Melissa. “Year Round Education.” About.com. Undated. New York Times Company. 30 Aug 2007. http://.712educators.about.com/cs/reformtime/a/yearrounded.htm?p=1
- Koontz, Michelle, E-mail interview. 17 September 2007. 25 Oct 2007.
- Patro, Stacy. “Year-Round Education.” Stacy Patro’s Online Research Portfolio. Ed. Patricia Ryan. Fall 2002. 30 Aug 2007. http://tiger.towson.edu/-spatro/researchpaper.htm
- Shewe, Audrey. “Put a Plug in the Summer Brain Drain.” CNN.com http://www.cnn.com/2006/EDUCATION/06/29/summer.learning.loss/index.html. Accessed on November 9, 2007.
- Stone, Eric. E-mail interview. 17 September 2007.
- Unknown. "Scheduling Alternatives: Options for Student Success." Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, September 2001, http://www.nwrel.org/request/feb97/article5.html
- Unknown. “Year-Round Education.” Year-Round Education – Fact Book. Ed. Bobby Roy. 27 Apr 2007. CA Dept of Education. 30 Aug 2007. http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/pn/fb/yr05yearound.asp?print=yes
- Warrick-Harris, Elaine. “Year-round school: the best thing since sliced bread.” Childhood Education. Ed: Gale. Mid-Summer 1995. General OneFile. 30 Aug 2007. http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodld=ITOF
- Worsnop, R.L. “Year-Round Schools.” CQ Researcher. 17 May 1996. 30 Aug 2007. http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre1996051700
- Weaver, Tyler. “Year-Round Education.” ERIC Digest, Number 68 (1992). http://www.ericdigests.org/1992-4/year.htm