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Year-Round Schools Get Fresh Look in Congressional Report

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While a two-and-a-half-month summer vacation has just begun for most American students, students at year-round schools will be back in class in a few weeks. A little rusty on the model? A new report from the Congressional Research Service, the unit of the Library of Congress that provides policy and legal analysis to the U.S. House and Senate, shares the latest data on year-round education.

Some stats in the report that caught our eye:

  • About 4 percent of all public schools—3,700 schools—in the United States operate on a year-round schedule. Of these, 400 are charter schools.
  • The number of public year-round schools is growing. There are nine times as many today as there were in 1985. In the five years between the 2006-07 and 2011-12 school years (the most recent data available from the National Center for Education Statistics), the number of year-round schools increased by 26 percent.
  • Most year-round schools are found in the South (40.5 percent), followed by the West (24.3 percent), and the Northeast and Midwest (16.2 percent in each region).
  • Nearly half (47 percent) of all schools on a year-round calendar have 75 percent or more of their students eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch.
  • The average number of instructional days per school year for year-round schools was 189 days during the 2011-12 school year, almost two weeks longer than the 180 days most states require schools to provide.

As the report explains, there are two types of year-round schools—single-track and multi-track schools. Single-track schools, aimed at curbing summer learning loss and providing blocks of time that can be used for remediation or enrichment activities, alternate periods of 9 to 12 weeks of instruction with intersessions or vacations lasting from 2 to 4 weeks. Multi-track schools, designed to expand capacity without having to build a new school or install portable classrooms, divide teachers and students into groups that each follows their own schedule (often, 45 days of instruction, 15 days of vacation/intersession), throughout the year.

The report notes that there is little evidence that year-round schooling improves academic performance, though some studies indicate that the schedule may improve academic achievement for low-income students. The CRS also observes that research has shown that multi-track schools reduce costs because the savings associated with making greater use of existing facilities outweighs the increases in operating expenses (such as staff, electricity).

Year-round schools certainly seem to have continued appeal for policymakers. In April, citing his state's need to reduce summer learning loss, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill that sets aside $2 million to help at-risk school districts get on year-round calendars. As the Time and Learning blog wrote earlier this year, the money is designed to encourage schools to adopt the schedule by providing grants for infrastructure improvements like installing air conditioning units. In order to quality for the maximum individual grant of $250,000, Michigan schools must commit to sticking to a year-round calendar for at least three years.

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