Do year-round schools enhance student learning, or are they a costly, hectic, and largely ineffective cure for the nation's educational ills? Those involved in year-round schools -- school superintendents, specialists, researchers, teachers, and principals -- share their views with Education World readers.
"At a time when the public is actually demanding greater retention of information and higher levels of achievement from the nation's students, educators and parents must change business as usual and challenge the wisdom of maintaining that long summer of forgetting," Dr. Charles Ballinger, executive director of the National Association for Year-Round Education, told Education World.
This year, more than 2 million students in close to 3,000 public schools in 41 states and 610 school districts attend year-round schools. As quickly as schools -- especially those in fast-growing districts -- adopt year-round schooling, others, stating that hot classrooms outweigh the possible educational plusses, revert to traditional schedules.
"Year-round schooling" is actually a misnomer. Students in year-round schools do not stay in school all year. In most cases, they are in school the same number of days as students on traditional calendars. Instead of a three-month vacation, schedules include several shorter vacations, or intercessions, spaced throughout the year.
Year-round schools operate on a single-track schedule -- all students are on vacation at the same time -- or a multi-track schedule -- a percentage of students are on vacation at a given time. Students can opt to spend time with their families or take advantage of remedial or enrichment programs during their intercessions.
Multi-tracking allows schools to enroll more students than buildings would ordinarily hold. The money saved through multi-tracking can be considerable. Florida's Marion County system estimates a savings of more than $12 million in construction costs because the district switched to multi-track year-round schooling. California's Oxnard School District estimates savings of approximately $20 million. Tom Payne, year-round education consultant for the California Department of Education, told Education World he estimates the state of California saved more than $4 billion when it switched 1027 of the 1517 single-track year-round schools to multi-track schedules.
In addition to increasing school-building capacity, reducing class size, and maximizing use of facilities, advocates of multi-track year-round scheduling say it
In some districts, because of increased administration, utility, maintenance, and/or transportation costs, predicted savings have not materialized. Life can also be hectic on a multi-track year-round schedule.
"Because multi-track schools try to keep rooms at 100 percent capacity, it means a lot of moving," Becky Hitt, a special education teacher at Imperial Beach (California) Elementary School, told Education World. "In my previous school, before intercessions, my students and I needed to put all our belongings into wheeled cabinets that were then stored in a shed until we came back. A 'roving' teacher went into my room while we were away. Students and teachers who roved never had a room of their own. Every four weeks or so, they packed all their belongings into wheeled cabinets and wheeled them into the next available room. Every time we came back from our break, we needed to set up again.
"Because the classrooms were always used, maintenance was affected," added Hitt. "That school was dirty. Maintenance people work when it fits their schedule, whether or not it disrupts the classroom. I remember walking into my room one day to find my carpets clean but wet, an incredible odor in my room, my desks everywhere, my bulletin boards curled from the moisture.
"It was especially tough," she noted, "when I was on a track that ended in August, and the new school year began just a few days later. If a teacher taught a new subject or a new grade level, there was no time to prepare."
Richard Vale, a seventh-grade math teacher at James Rutter Middle School in Sacramento, California, sees some other drawbacks. Vale told Education World: "Almost everything had to be done twice: open house, school pictures, state testing, everything -- someone was always off track when one of those events was scheduled. All band members at our school, like all athletes, had to be on the same track. They might have been on a different track from the other kids in their neighborhood or even other members of their family.
"Then there's the heat here," Vale continued. "In the summertime, we switch to an earlier schedule. School starts at about 6:50 a.m. or so, and ends around 1:10. We do this even though our school is air-conditioned because kids can't participate in PE at 3:00 in the afternoon when it's 110 degrees!"
Sixth-grade teacher Charlotte Griswold told Education World that it was possible for parents at her school -- Oak Hill Middle School in Clear Lake, California -- to have children on three different schedules. Teachers might be on one track while their own children were on another track or attended traditional schools.
In some other places, the elementary school is on a year-round schedule, but the middle and high schools are on traditional schedules. When high school students aren't off at the same time their younger siblings are, scheduling day care becomes a nightmare for some parents.
"Multi-track year-round schedules can be difficult," acknowledged Leroy Small, an educator for more than 30 years and now a consultant for the California Department of Education's Year-Round Education Advisory Committee.
Teacher Becky Hitt couldn't agree more. "When I found an opening in a single-track school, I jumped at it," she told Education World."
Robert Smotherman, superintendent of the Bardstown Independent School District in Kentucky and past president of the Kentucky Association for Year-Round Schooling, also thinks single-track year-round education is the way to go. "Five years ago, there were two experimental schools on year-round education in Kentucky," Smotherman told Education World. "Today there are 186 elementary schools, 58 middle schools, 55 high schools, and another 30 schools with different grade configurations.
"It's a more flexible, relaxed, and effective way to educate kids," added Smotherman. "One major new study shows that 54 of 64 school variables -- attendance, grades, discipline, test scores, and so on -- are better with a year-round calendar than with traditional calendars. Overall, year-round education offers schools an exciting, almost cost-free opportunity to improve quality time between teachers and students."
Chris Pultz, a third- and fourth-grade teacher at Trailblazer Elementary in Douglas County, Colorado, likes the year-round schedule. "[I can] go full tilt for the entire nine weeks, realizing that I have a three-week break coming up," Pultz told Education World. "I cannot even imagine maintaining the high level of individual instruction for longer stretches of time.... We spend a day, maybe two, reviewing when we come back to school after a three-week break. Then it is off to the races. "
Principal Hazel Colebank has seen great benefits to year-round schooling at Nautilus Elementary School in Lake Havasu, Arizona. "We saw many of our students not reading a book over the three-month summer break. Many of our English as a second language students were not exposed to English during the summer," Colebank told Education World. "The first grading quarter (was) mostly review." Rethinking the vacation/instruction cycle allowed the staff at Nautilus to perceive the entire school calendar as an educational tool, says Colebank.
"If our country began on a year-round schedule, it would have seemed bizarre to propose the summer-off schedule as a superior way to educate students," added Colebank. "Since most of us grew up with the traditional calendar, changing to year-round [suggests] that we did it wrong.... It is human nature to resist change, (but) I believe the traditional nine months on, three months off calendar is educational malpractice."
This extensive review of literature by University of Minnesota CAREI researchers Elisabeth A. Palmer and Amy E. Bemis explores the research on year-round schooling from the last three decades. The researchers found that "the inadequate research designs or incomplete reporting of data in many research studies made it difficult to draw conclusions. Still, there is strong evidence -- primarily at the elementary level where implementation is the greatest -- to suggest that year-round schedules can have a positive impact on student achievement. Data on other outcomes, such as attitudes, attendance, professional development, and the impact on families, was, for the most part, inconclusive." (Adobe Acrobat Reader required)
Year-Round Schooling Can Cure Much of What Ails Us
This opinion piece, written by vice president/president-elect of the Illinois Association for Year-Round Education, Molly A. Carroll, extols the virtues of year-round education.
Do Year-Round Schools Improve Student Learning?
This article by British Columbia Teachers' Federation member Charlie Naylor pans year-round schooling.
Year-Round Schools Gearing Up
This Honolulu Advertiser article describes the impact of year-round schooling on private schools in Hawaii.
Teaching in Year-Round Schools
This ERIC Digest examines the benefits and challenges of teaching in year-round schools.
NAYRE: Learning for All Seasons
This is a resource from the National Association for Year-Round Education.
You would call this the anti year-round school Web site. "It is absurd to suggest that children aren't learning during the summer..."
"Should Kids Go To School Year-Round?" USA Weekend (May 29 to 31, 1998). This article describes the pros and cons of year-round schooling. It's a great overview of the topic.
Article by Glori Chaika
Copyright © 2009 Education World
Originally published 11/08/1999
Last updated 10/16/2009