Using Year-Round Schools to Close the Achievement Gap
In comparison to children from low-income and minority groups, children belonging to middle class families enjoy more learning opportunities even during school breaks. Thus, extended school days may help low income and minority students achieve more learning throughout the year, and lose less of this new knowledge.
Year-round schools offer a variety of specific advantages in addition to increased learning. Some of the significant advantages include better student performance, reduced absenteeism among students and teachers, better discipline, diminished stress on teachers, and better learning opportunities for students. Schools following multi-track programs also enjoy easing of problems due to overcrowding, proper utilization of resources, and cost savings. The following sections discuss some of these specific advantages in more detail.
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. Furthermore, the additional time allows teachers to offer students more time to achieve better results, creating a sense of excitement and interest in students, and a sense of unified effort between student and teacher. This is likely due to an increased sense of belonging and accomplishment.
Some people have expressed concern that teachers will have problems attending to their own family life if year-round schools are instituted. However, year-round school systems allow shorter but more frequent school breaks, allowing teachers more regular time during which they may concentrate on personal and family needs. As a result, many teachers in year-round schools actually feel less work stress.
Research also suggests that there is less teacher absenteeism in year-round schools. Teachers feel less of a need to take “mental health” days at year-round schools because they enjoy frequent breaks that gives them a chance to recharge regularly throughout the year. In addition, teachers are able to schedule professional development opportunities during the intersession periods, in order to compensate for missed classes during the summer. Research focused on teacher attitudes in year-round schools revealed that teachers found more satisfaction in the year-round school schedule.
Low income students have opportunities to garner habits for improved learning skills while attending year round schools, which in turn helps to close the achievement gap. 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, including those for whom English is a second language. Many second language learners who have difficulty mastering English are advantaged by the opportunity to be immersed in English during intersession classes. They also develop better relationships with other students, and begin to feel more connected to the school culture.
In addition to improving their academic standing, students at year-round schools may also have opportunities to develop creative talents they might not otherwise have explored, such as music and art. These classes work as a catalyst to improve personal growth. Results from research studies conducted on student behavior in year-round schools, as compared to traditional schools, suggest that there is a significant difference between the two in terms of self-confidence and self-concept. Other studies have found that year-round students have fewer inhibitions, and feel positive about their schooling experience.
Various research studies reveal that students attending year-round schools often perform better than students in traditional, shorter-school-year schools. Differences in performance among traditional and year round calendar students from similar home environments are particularly important to note. Much has been written about the achievement gap between students from middle class backgrounds and those from low income backgrounds. However, low income and middle income students appear to make comparable achievement gains during the school year.
When low income students spend time away from school, the achievement gap widens. In fact, the rate at which the achievement gap widens between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds actually accelerates, when low income students are not in school. Research shows that performance among students from low income backgrounds improves when they attend schools with modified calendars. It appears then, that modified school calendars should be considered as one of the viable options for reducing the achievement gap.