Top 3 Reasons the US Should Switch to Year-Round Schooling
The traditional school year, with roughly three months of vacation days every summer, was first implemented when America was an agricultural society. Learning to read, write, and perform basic arithmetic in classrooms was simply not as important as keeping up family farms and building the nation. The summer months were needed exclusively for farm work.
Since then, we have completely changed as a nation—today, the majority of U.S. K-12 students aren’t spending summers off tilling fields or harvesting crops. However, the idea of summers off from school is alive and well. The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research finds that the average American student receives 13 weeks off of school each calendar year – with 10 or 11 of those coming consecutively during the summer. Barely any other countries have more than seven weeks off in a school calendar. Only around 10 percent of U.S. schools currently use a year-round school calendar with shorter breaks inserted throughout the year.
With the US lagging behind countries such as Korea in terms of academic performance, it may be time to consider drastic changes to our public school system. Year-round schooling might just be a solution—and surprisingly, it could even be one that students will enjoy. Here’s why:
- Students will actually remember what they learn.
Year-round schooling means that students do not fall victim to the “summer slide,” or the well-documented phenomenon where students unlearn some of the knowledge they worked so hard to attain when too much consecutive time is taken off from school.
A study released in 2007 by The Ohio State University found that there are really no differences in learning between students who attend school year round and those who are on a traditional schedule. However, the National Summer Learning Association often cites decades of research that shows that it can take anywhere from 8 to 13 weeks at the beginning of every school year for teachers to get their students back up to speed and ready to learn the new grade’s material.
Either way, when it comes to learning and retention, students who attend year-round schools have nothing to lose and much to gain.
- It’s an easy way to bridge the achievement gap.
Minority students, students who speak English as a second language, economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities are the most affected by the summer fallback. Studies have found that disadvantaged students lose about 27 percent more of their learning gains in the summer months than their peers.
If that is not enough to affirm the need for year-round schooling for minorities, researcher Daniel O’Brien concluded that minority students progress their learning proficiency the fastest during the school year when compared to white and economically advantaged students.
Furthermore, 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 poverty and minority students benefit greatly from year-round schooling because it keep students “on task” and leads to more “meaningful instruction” when there are not a lot of academically sound options at home.
Minorities also drop out of high school at rates that are higher than their white counterparts. According to Jessica Washington of Politic365, the solution is year-round schooling. She reports that the national dropout rate is 5 percent, while the dropout rate for year-round school students is just 2 percent. These dropout statistics are not broken down by racial or socioeconomic backgrounds, but if the overall dropout rate is lower for year-round schools, it is likely that the minority dropout rates in this model are also lower. The reasons why 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 have less time to work.
While this inability for teenagers to work and make money in the summer has been cited as a pitfall of year-round schooling, the disadvantages of this 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 more with a bachelor’s degree. 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.
- Students will actually like school.
Students will do more than just learn better in a year-round school.
Teachers and students experience a closer relationship in year-round schools than they do in traditional, shorter-calendar-year schools. In the absence of any long-term break from school, students do not feel detached from the school environment.
The experience of immersion in learning offered by year-round schools, with more time spent in classrooms, proves to be beneficial to many students from low socioeconomic backgrounds in particular, including those for whom English is a second language. Many second language learners who have difficulty mastering English benefit from the opportunity to immerse themselves in English during intersession classes. They also develop better relationships with other students.
Results from research studies show that students in year-round schools are more self-confident, have a higher self-concept, have fewer inhibitions, and feel positive about their schooling experience.
But what about down time? Don’t children need time to just “be kids”?
Some childhood development experts believe that for younger students, time off in the summer months is vital to healthy development. They believe that kids are not designed to spend so much of their time inside classroom walls and that the warmer, pleasant weather of the summer provides a perfect opportunity to get outside and experience childhood. The problem with this argument, of course, is that most children are no longer spending their summers frolicking in fields of flowers or running around their neighborhoods, hanging out with other kids.
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. Children today spend more time in sedentary activities like watching television or using mobile devices instead of playing outside or participating in active pursuits. Not only must K-12 students relearn the academic items, but they must also shift their mentalities from less-active, sedentary ones to sharp, alert learning models.
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. 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.
As the US establishes itself as a knowledge and innovation-based economy, the usefulness of a traditional school year diminishes. There are many reasons changing from our traditional school year to year-round schooling makes sense. As with any adjustments, making the switch would not be easy. However, with all its advantages, it is certainly worth considering.