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Why Education Reformers Shouldn't Dismiss the Idea of Year-Round Schooling

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When it comes to propositions for educational reform, the suggestion that the U.S. adopt a year-round schooling model is one of the most drastic - at least within the eyes of the American public. Summer vacation has a long, nostalgia-draped history among American school children. Still, the idea of year-round schooling isn't one that came out of nowhere.

Our education system began at a time when most students were expected to have primary schooling and then work in the family business or manufacturing, or work in other ways to contribute to the family's economic well-being. During this time, only about 20% of children were actually being groomed to attend college. Today, however, things are very different. The family is no longer a cohesive economic unit that requires the work of children to help with the family's income. We have also moved beyond the point where in a majority of homes, one parent (most often the mother) was home to attend to children. The traditional family unit of a working father and stay-at-home mother is no longer the norm. Rather, 32% of children are raised in single-family households where the parent presumably has to work full time. Similarly, over 60% of school-aged children in two-parent families live in a home where both parents work outside the home.

Changes are also apparent in our economy; our information-age society will result in a reduction of jobs requiring minimal levels of education. Many jobs today require a college education and/or the ability to acquire and adapt skills for high-performance workplaces of the 21st century. We must make changes in our education system to better prepare our children for the jobs of today and the jobs of the future. To increase the reach of and improve the public education system, it is necessary to increase the amount of time used for schooling, as well as to improve the efficiency with which we use the time allotted for educational endeavors.

Proponents of a year-round school year suggest that a shift in the time designated for teaching and learning will help students achieve more by minimizing summer learning loss, allowing for innovation and implementation of creative programs, and providing the time needed to assist children who need extra help. Many school districts around the country are in fact working toward increasing both the hours in each school day and the number of days schools are in session. Many education leaders are open to the idea of increasing the number of days per school year by up to an additional month, and some go so far as to support year-round school programming. Some leaders have suggested an extended school day and/or school year for schools that are failing to perform well. This suggestion seems to have some foundation in research, because data show that certain groups (including students from low socioeconomic backgrounds) seem to be negatively impacted by the traditional summer hiatus. The proponents of year-round schooling claim that with extended time to teach, teachers will be able to help all students attain better performance results.

It's easy to understand why education reformers put so much emphasis on time spent teaching and learning. Research shows that time may be the most essential resource of the education system. But it's important to recognize that merely increasing the amount of time students are in school is not a panacea for improving student performance. It's necessary to use the available time in the best possible manner. If teachers fail to convert the available time to quality teaching and learning time, the increased school hours will not improve student performance.

Parents often have a stake in school hours as well. Some parents are already highly concerned with their child's academic progress. Many parents prefer to employ additional educational services for their children that may offer better afterschool educational opportunities, and others may prefer to spend some of their own time educating their children after school. Those parents, and parents of students from affluent backgrounds, may not support increasing school day hours, and for those students, it may not be necessary. Nonetheless, by increasing high-quality education time, schools can certainly provide help for students who can't afford learning opportunities outside of school.

Although a longer school day or year has many positives, there are also a number of concerns, including cost. Increasing the number of hours and days in school can prove expensive, making it necessary to put more emphasis on increasing the utility of available school time. Some education leaders suggest that instead of increasing the hours and days in a school calendar year, it would be better to spread out the available number of school days in such a manner that the school services may remain available for the students throughout the year. This might mean offering three short breaks rather than one long summer vacation, or simply offering various classes or tutoring programs during the summer downtime. Either approach would increase costs in facility usage and likely increase staff costs as well.

Is it time to turn the U.S. K-12 school calendar completely on its head by abolishing summers-off schedules and adding time in the classroom? Would such actions make a significant positive impact on student performance, particularly in STEM topics?

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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