Symposium 2015: Is year round education good for student learning?

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-As the brother of a career middle school teacher and the son of a college professor, I am deeply suspicious of “fads” in education.  From New Math to Common Core, periodically some well-meaning idiot comes up with a fantastic new idea that’s going to make our kids smarter, our country stronger, our whites whiter and our colors brighter…or something like that.

Usually, they’re variations on a theme or hackneyed old concepts presented with a fresh coat of paint, a thick frosting of PR and a creamy filling of squeeze paid out to “noted educators” to endorse the new plan and/or condemn the old one.

And, just as usually, the test scores and grade point averages stay the same, about the same percentage of kids graduate and time marches on.

However, year-round schooling makes sense on a simple level.  Kids forget stuff over the long summer break. Teachers spend the first two or three weeks of school bringing their charges back up to speed and figuring out who has perfect recall from the previous year and who seems to have suffered a grievous head injury and forgotten all but the most basic words and numbers.  By cutting out the long chasm of summer vacation, the little sprouts are watered more regularly and thus grow more abundantly.

Yes, I understand that much of American family life is centered around that long summer break, at least for those in the upper middle class and above. For the working poor and struggling middle class, that long summer break means finding caretakers for kids too young to be left alone, and making sure they budget enough to cover those expenses.  Parents who can’t afford to send their kids off to camp or hire a summer nanny have to come up with the scratch to cover a long period.

With year-round schooling, the breaks are shorter, benefiting all concerned.  The kids receive more constant instruction, the parents have less long-term planning to handle and the teachers don’t have to spend so much time re-teaching material.

The model falls apart at the high school level, though.  Kids in high school have summer jobs, internships and other activities that do require a summer break, and they can also be held more personally accountable for keeping their skills sharp and their minds tuned.  So year-round until eighth grade, then resume the standard calendar for the final four years of school.

Owatanna, MN Correspondent-To say the nation’s public schools face some serious issues when it comes to educating our children is an understatement. Many solutions to the assorted problems have been tried. Some have succeeded. Others have not. Year round school schedules have been proposed but not extensively implemented, mainly because of all the conflicts that arise when the change is proposed.

Since our nation has seen our educational competitive edge narrow in recent decades, we should start a national movement toward year round schooling. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s worth a try.

The main argument for year round education is better learning and retention by students when they aren’t given summers off to forget what they learned the previous year. Getting up to speed in the first month of the new school year won’t be an issue either, if students only have a week or two off on any scheduled break. Those breaks will become routine, just as a five-day school week has become routine in this country.

Various groups will need to make adjustments if year round school becomes reality. Teachers will have shorter turnaround time to prepare for each new class. Businesses that rely on summer tourism will need to find another source of seasonal labor if teens won’t be able to work fulltime. Teens who want or need to work fulltime in summers for spending money or to save for college will need to change to year round part-time hours to compensate.

If we as a nation truly place a quality education at the top of the list of requirements to achieve the American Dream, we owe it to our children to try new methods and concepts of teaching until we can honestly say we provide our children with the finest education in the world.

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-Year round education is good for student learning when it is applied to specific student groups.  Inclusive studies have shown that there are no real variations in learning with students who attend school year round and those who are on  traditional school schedules, which include holiday breaks, other out-of-school time periods and a full three months off during the summer.  There are indications that extra days in a school year can be of benefit to students overall and there have been improvements in test scores, but there are still questions as to whether year round education is effective for all students in the learning process.

One group that has benefited more from year-round schooling in relationship to achievement levels are at-risk/ disadvantaged students.  They tend to do better in year-round arrangements because of the consistency of time in a learning environment, the variety of learning experiences and the added attention provided by instructors.   A traditional school calendar is not as effective with these students, as time away from school and the classroom causes distraction and a loss of what has already been acquired learning wise.  Other studies have revealed that at-risk/disadvantaged students lose up to 27 percent of what they have previously learned during the summer months as opposed to other students.  With year-round schooling, these students are better able to keep their minds occupied with learning and are not sidetracked by a non-school home setting that may or may not promote learning during the summer months.

With year-round schedules there are usually two models of structure that are comprised of single track and multi-track.  In multi-track students are grouped on different schedules and different time off periods.  This type of schedule, again, accommodates at-risk and disadvantaged students as they are able to get extra or remedial help during the days off phase of the track as teachers are still on campus.  The process is comparable to a summer school platform, but it occurs during the school year and may only be a week or two spaced out during the year, rather than a whole summer.  With this kind of shortened arrangement, students in need of additional help don’t feel as though they are being forced into a summer school situation to play catch-up or finish an entire school session over the summer.

Another group of students that benefit from year round schooling are more advanced students who are able to readily adapt to additional time in school and are concerned about increasing their learning and skills on a daily basis.  Their abilities allow them to move along at a stronger pace and give them the opportunity to profit from a multi-track system as much as a lower level student.  They are able to take on additional learning tasks that interest them and participate in more advanced subject matter within the track with the additional off-days provided.  A year round schedule with inter-sessions can supplement advanced students educational experiences with creative courses that pique the interest of this student group and keep them a step ahead of the learning process.

Parents are not completely convinced that year round schooling advances their children’s learning as they have complaints concerning scheduling conflicts, their children’s lack of time to experience other things outside of the classroom, and the limited socialization that their children experience with so much time spent in the classroom.  Other parents do see the advantage of year-round learning with the enrichment that their children receive through additional creative courses that are provided with multi-track programs, and parents are grateful for the additional time and attention their children receive through year-round education.  There will always be differing opinions on year-round schooling, but the increased learning factor is the most important element in the debate.

Currently, year-round schooling appears to give students an academic edge over more traditional school learning, but researchers conclude that the numbers are not substantial enough to get a clear and concise picture of the overall effects of year-round schooling on learning.  What does appear to be a positive for year-round learning is the boost in achievement levels with at-risk students and the fact that other students enrolled in a year-round schedule are not negatively affected by the year-round learning schedule.

Sheffield, Jamaica Correspondent-Obtaining an education is very important. That cannot be expressed enough. Since education is ‘crucial’, it’s then expected that children go through an all year round educational calendar. However, should that be the case?

Where I come from, we usually express that, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” As outdated as that phrase may seem, there is some value to it. Too much educating or time cracking books, though good for student learning, might prove negative to their overall mental, physical and psychological health. While academia is important, so is the mental stability of our students.

Though an entire school day is not for 24 hours, it’s highly anticipated that a break is allotted to students. This is to ensure that they engage in meaningful association, socialize with friends and spend adequate time with family. An all year round education also leaves students feeling drained. I can vividly recall my years in school. They were difficult! I often looked intently toward the holidays, because they gave me time to rejuvenate and reset my brain for learning. If we take that away from students, we’d be living among zombies and people who don’t know how to catch a break. Although educated, they’d be incapable of holding a decent conversation.

An all year round education is also costly for parents. When we give children a break from school, we also give their parents a break. We give them sufficient time to plan ahead and save enough to cover their children’s current and impending expenditures.

Cartwright—The more we can keep the kids in school, the better off we all are. If they’re in school, they’re not out roaming the streets getting into trouble or mischief.  I would think most parents would like this.  Who takes care of the kids in the summer while the parents are working?

Just keeping kids in school isn’t enough.  We need to make sure they’re getting a first rate education while they’re in school.  We need to go back to grouping kids in classes based on aptitudes so they can learn at their own level and pace instead of teaching to the lowest aptitude in the room.  We need to have great educators in the classrooms; get the best and the brightest to teach the kids.  Let’s give college kids an incentive to become teachers, and make sure we give the best of the best teachers already in classrooms an incentive to stay.  Let’s get the federal government out of the way of teachers and administrators and let education be run at the local level…of course, notwithstanding my earlier comments to put the military in charge of school administration.  We need to be doing whatever it takes to prepare future generations for the competitive global economy.

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