Year-Round Schools: 10 Things That You Should Know
The United States is known for a lot of things, but a superior educational system is not one of them. Throughout most of America, schools have summers off. Could this be one reason the K-12 educational system is struggling to keep students engaged? Year-round schools offers a promising solution to our educational system’s problems. Here’s a breakdown of the effects year-round schooling has on students, teachers, and even the economy.
When public schools first started cropping up in the U.S., they were considered secondary to other hands-on pursuits. Learning to read, write, and perform basic arithmetic in classrooms was considered less respectable than the physical labor of building the nation and keeping up family farms.
Even when a basic public school education became a priority, the school calendar revolved around agriculture—a necessity of the American way of life. Three months off in the summer months was not mandated because students needed down time, free creative play, or time to decompress after their strenuous studies. Those months off were full of even more work, for the sake of the family and the nation.
Though family farms have for the most part become an antiquated piece of American history, the idea of summers off from school remains alive and well. The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research finds that the average American student receives thirteen weeks off of school each calendar year—with ten or eleven of those coming consecutively during June, July, and August. Few other countries have more than seven weeks off in a school calendar. Around 10 percent of U.S. schools have transitioned to a year-round school calendar, with shorter breaks inserted throughout the year, but the majority of schools in the U.S. still follow a summers-off schedule (Morin 2016).
Why do we persist with an antiquated system? There is no longer an economic reason for summer vacation, and there is no medical reason that three consecutive months during the center of the calendar year are necessary for the healthy development of children. The reason the school year remains in a summers-off state is simple: it is easier than changing it. That mentality begins with teachers in the classroom and escalates to educational policymakers. Changing the ways things have always been, even if there is some pretty solid evidence that it would improve things, is too cumbersome—so why bother? In an effort to illuminate the pros and cons of year round schools, I decided to write a comprehensive list of all the things that you should know about year round schools.
- It would help minority students
Anna Habash of Education Trust, a nonprofit that works with schools to better serve their student populations, says that for minorities, a year-round school schedule does more than help academically. In an interview with Education News, Habash said that schools with high numbers of poor and minority students benefit greatly from year-round schooling because it keeps students on task and leads to more meaningful instruction. When there are not a lot of academically sound options at home, students from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit from the consistency of classroom instruction on a streamlined schedule (“Benefits of Year-Round Schools Touted” n.d.). A recent Congressional Research Service report also found that of year-round school attendees, 75 percent were receiving free or reduced lunches (Mendez 2014).
It is well documented that minorities drop out of high school at rates higher than their white counterparts. The solution to this problem, according to specialists like Jessica Washington of Politic365, is year-round schooling. She reports that the national dropout rate is 5 percent, while the dropout rate for year-round students is just 2 percent (Washington 2013). These dropout statistics are not broken down by racial or socioeconomic backgrounds, but it stands to reason that if the overall dropout rate is lower for year-round schooling setups, the minority dropout rates in this model are also lower. The reasons dropout rates are lower in year-round setups are easy to deduce: students have less time to adjust to time off from school and, in the case of high schoolers, they do not have the time to take summer jobs.
This inability of teenagers to work and make money in the summer months has actually been cited as a pitfall of year-round schooling. However, I’d argue that the disadvantages of that point are short-lived. High school graduates earn $11,000 more per year than those with a G.E.D. or less, and that number rises to $36,000 if they have a bachelor’s degree (Breslow 2012). Giving up a few summers of minimum wage work in exchange for the higher lifetime earnings a high school diploma affords is a small price to pay.
- It lessens the summer slide
Year-round schooling also means that students do not fall victim to the “summer slide,” the well-documented phenomenon in which students can actually unlearn some of the knowledge they worked so hard to attain when too much consecutive time is taken off from school. Research shows that it takes anywhere from eight to thirteen weeks at the beginning of every school year for new teachers to get their students back up to speed and ready to learn the new material (Morin 2016).
The summer fallback disproportionately impacts minority students, students who speak English as a second language, economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities. The achievement gap between these academically disadvantaged groups already exists; the summer slide just broadens it. If that wasn’t enough to affirm the need for year-round schooling for minorities, researcher Daniel O’Brien concluded that learning proficiency progresses faster for minority students during the school year than for white and economically advantaged students (O’Brien 1999). By implementing year-round schooling, minority and other student groups benefit from the consistent, layered increase of information, without the remedial work cutting into the new school-year schedule.
Closing the achievement gap for minority students is always a central topic of discussion, and it seems to me that we have at least a partial solution right in front of us. Implementing year-round schooling will not only lead to minority students who are more engaged with their academics, but ones who come to rely on the consistency of their educational schedule and are more apt to stick with it.
A survey of school educational decision-makers in 1971 found that 84 percent of respondents felt that year-round schooling would be implemented in all U.S. schools within the next fifteen years (Holzmann n.d.). Two districts in San Diego were the first to implement year-round academic calendars, in 1971, and by 1974, thirteen more districts in California followed suit (Von Hipple 2007). Even today, California and its neighbors lead the year-round trend, with four-fifths of all of year-round schedules in the nation in Western states, and over half of them in California. In total, over 2 million U.S. students attend school on year-round schedules every year, in around three thousand schools in forty-six states (Dessof 2011).
- No summers off
Every job comes with its share of headaches and, at one point or another, employees in all industries claim that they are “burned out.” Teaching is unique when it comes to burn-out, though, because an unmotivated, exhausted teacher has a direct effect on the young people in his or her classroom. Free summers have long been the light at the end of the tunnel for teachers, particularly in urban areas with higher discipline problems and overcrowded classrooms. In a year-round setting, lengthy breaks are gone, replaced with shorter, more frequent ones. Though the loss of those summer months may at first seem like a drawback, many teachers end up liking the greater frequency of time off (Chaika 1999). With shorter, more concentrated spurts of instruction, teachers can exert more energy and face the daily struggles in the knowledge that there will soon be relief. There is still as much time off, but it is more evenly distributed.
- More red tape for teachers
Teachers who work at multi-track year-round schools, or schools that rotate student schedules so time off is staggered and the school is always open, have more work to do. Part of the financial allure of a multi-track schedule is that a school is always at full capacity, which means that teachers share classrooms. “Roving” teachers have to live from carts, or, in some cases, temporary storage, in order to make their classrooms accommodating to other teachers. There are also cases in which a teacher may not get the allotted time off because he or she is changing a grade level or subject and there is no time off between tracks.
Single-track setups have fewer of the issues of multi-track schools, but there are still some conflicts, particularly if the teachers are parents too. If their children go to a traditionally scheduled school, their breaks may not line up and could lead to childcare issues.
- The issue of pay
In most scenarios, teachers make the same amount of money in their districts whether they work at a year-round or traditional school, though the pay schedules may differ. Teachers who made extra money teaching summer school still have that option in year-round districts that offer remedial courses during break periods. The biggest economic impact for teachers who move to year-round schedules is if they are accustomed to taking on part-time work during the summers. Depending on the type of work, this could mean a loss of several thousand dollars every year. However, for teachers satisfied with holding down just one job and paycheck, a year-round schedule may not have any economic impact on their families at all.
Research has not found any large negative effects on teachers who teach in year-round schedules instead of traditional ones (Chaika 1999). Like any profession, the preferred schedule depends on the individual. For veteran teachers who have been teaching in a traditional setup for years, a switch to year-round schooling may be more jarring than for a newly licensed teacher. Overall, though, the job and time off are comparable—just different.
- On-campus costs and savings
Year-round school programs are usually based on one of two structures: single-track, which releases all students for breaks throughout the year together, and multi-track, which staggers student breaks and effectively keeps the school building occupied year round. Obviously, on a multi-track schedule, school maintenance costs rise because the building is in full use year round. The cost does not increase by as much as a quarter, though, because most school buildings in a traditional schedule have some employees there in the summer months, and most offer summer school classes for some of that time. Nevertheless, in warm climates, the cost of air conditioning alone can be a deal-breaker when the topic of year-round schooling is broached. There is also the added cost of transportation on more days of school, as well as the salaries of custodial staff and additional administrative staff.
There are some areas where year-round schools can be long-term money-saving options, though. If a particular district has more students than traditional schedules can accommodate, the capital cost of new buildings can be avoided with a multi-track schedule that allows more students to use the same building. Beyond the capital cost of a building, money can be saved because a higher number of students are using the same resources, like library books or physical-education equipment. Some schools have even listed a decrease in vandalism as a financial plus of year-round occupancy (California Department of Education 2015).
- Community cost and savings
Each community will feel a different economic impact when it comes to year-round schooling. A tourist community with summer attractions, for example, may feel more of a squeeze if its low-cost employee pool of high school students is suddenly in class instead. The same could be said for ski-resort communities, though those could benefit from multi-track scheduling of high school students during their busiest season. The summer months tend to be when high school students earn the most money, however, because there is a significant period of time with no school responsibilities. Without those months of a steady paycheck, students (and parents) stand to lose potential college money. According to most research, trying to work and maintain a job alongside classes can have a negative impact on grades, and most employers cannot accommodate students who are only available two or three weeks at a time (Lederman 2009).
The potential economic cost of year-round schooling is thus twofold: individual students may suffer financially, and local businesses may have to pay more for part-time jobs, which had been ideal for high school students seeking summer employment.
Savings to the community are less tangible, but can be reflected in some research indicating that year-round schooling reduces teen crime, thus saving money for the community (http://www.auburn.edu/~enebasa/html/atrisk_.pp.html). At-risk students tend to perform better in year-round setups, making them more successful in their academic careers, which will lead to a stronger economy down the road if those students avoid dropping out of high school (“Education Policy: Advantages” n.d.). While the savings associated with year-round school schedules may not show up on something as straightforward as a utility bill, they do exist.
- Rising costs
The summer months are typically the highest for energy consumption. In fact, the average electricity bill for homeowners in the summer months goes up 4 to 8 percent (Rogers 2014). The same would be true for schools. Having empty classrooms in the summer months means less money going to air conditioning, and prevents other warm-weather costs from hitting school utility budgets. It may seem like a minor point, but an increase in utility bills for one-quarter of the year could really hurt schools’ bottom lines.
- Not enough down time
Some childhood-development experts believe that, particularly when it comes to younger students, time off in the summer months is a vital component of healthy development. The argument suggests that kids are not designed to spend so much of their time inside classrooms and that the pleasant summer weather provides a perfect opportunity to get outside and have fun. The problem with this argument, of course, is that most children are not spending their summers frolicking in fields of flowers or running around their neighborhoods, hanging out with other kids.
The days of kids spending their summers outside, communing with nature and getting plenty of exercise, are long past. A recent Harvard University study found that school-age children tend to gain weight at a faster pace during the summer months than during the school year, a fact attributed to more time spent in sedentary activities like watching television or using mobile devices (Adler, Franckle, and Davidson 2014). Not only must K-12 students relearn the academic material when they return to the classroom, they must also shift their mentalities from less-active, sedentary ones to sharp, alert learning models—and teachers bear the brunt of this responsibility.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that by the time children graduate from high school, they will have spent more time watching television than in classrooms (“WatchingTV/Screen Time and Children” n.d.). What’s more, children who watch an excessive amount of television generally have lower grades in school, read fewer books, and have more health problems. While some children visit summer camps or attend child care when school is out, others stay at home, inside, with not much else to do than watch TV or play games on electronic devices. This is especially true for kids who are middle-school age or higher and are able to stay home alone when parents work. The “down time” of the summer months is really just empty time, often void of anything academically or developmentally advantageous.
- Scheduling adjustments
For parents with children of different ages and in different schools, a year-round schedule could present serious scheduling issues. This argument assumes that schools would actually adhere to different time-off schedules—something that seemingly could be adjusted so that all schools within a particular district or geographic area were on the same schedule. It can be difficult for working parents to find babysitters for one or two weeks at a time every few months, as opposed to three months straight in the summer. Again, though, the market tends to adjust to demand. Child-care centers and camps would likely be able to offer programs when students needed them. Just because those programs are not available now does not mean they would not exist if the school schedules shifted.
In this article, we explored how students’ experiences can be enhanced by implementing a year-round schooling system. Year-round schools can offer students more engagement, more learning time, and shorter downtime during which learning may be lost. Year-round programs can be especially beneficial for low-income and minority children, who have been statistically shown to suffer most from long school breaks. Students who need more time to learn may benefit from extra help teachers are able to provide when increased school time allows them to do so. Increasing the time spent in school would bring the U.S. education system more in line with other developed countries, helping our children to be better prepared to compete in a global community.
While a major advantage of year-round schools is more quality instruction time, the administration of year-round schools requires extra effort when it comes to managing students, teachers, and the structural requirements of the school. Schools may find it expensive and challenging to manage the cost of extended day education. Clearly, year-round schools have some disadvantages; however, research shows that as parents, students, and teachers grow accustomed to year-round schooling systems, they inevitably find it more satisfactory when compared to schools operating under traditional school calendars.
To enable our children to be truly competitive in the global marketplace, and to give them the opportunities that they need to succeed, our educational system needs to grow and change. Year-round schooling should be strongly considered as one part of the answer to better educating America’s youth.
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