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Break Up the School Year for Better Learning

Although the school calendar has seen some tweaks, it remains essentially unchanged ("School Is Still in Session. That Doesn't Mean Students Are in Class," The New York Times, Jun. 27).  That's unfortunate because the way the 180-day school year is designed is antithetical to learning. 

Reformers have managed to lengthen the school year in the belief that doing so will mean more learning.  But just the opposite is true.  By Memorial Day, teachers and students are exhausted.  That's because they've had only Presidents Day and a one-week spring break since the second semester began.  School is in session, but students have checked out mentally, if not physically.

Teachers also pay a price.  Nationwide, slightly more than one in four missed 10 days or more in 2013-14 ("1 in 4 Teachers Miss 10 or more School Days, Analysis Finds," Education Week, Jun. 27). The absenteeism rate was about the same for schools with both high and low concentrations of poverty.  When I was teaching, I saw a distinct drop in my effectiveness as the spring semester wore on. I desperately needed a break to recharge, but that was impossible.

Recognizing the absurdity of the present schedule, I propose a year-round school year with two-week breaks distributed periodically.  Students would receive the same number of days of instruction, but they would be refreshed by the time off.  Parents would benefit as well by not having to find ways to engage their children over the long two-month summer vacation. The only downside would be the need to adjust their own vacation schedule to coincide with the time their children are off.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check 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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