Supporters of a year-round schooling system often suggest that policymakers should adopt this schooling format because students in other countries often outperform their counterparts in the United States. Why are students in other countries doing so much better than our own? One reason may be that most international schools offer extended school days and longer school years.
During the school year in the U. S., real learning is occurring, but the long summer break takes its toll by seemingly erasing some of what has been learned. This loss of learning is even more pronounced among students from low socioeconomic and minority backgrounds. The unequal learning opportunities for students of different socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnic groups are major reasons for the achievement gap among students. During the school year when students from different socioeconomic backgrounds learn together, the disparity between students’ educational opportunities outside the school is diminished because both groups are learning enough at school to help minimize the differences outside of school. The environment within the structure of school appears to reduce the effect of socioeconomic differences among students, and may help the students belonging to lower socioeconomic families perform better.
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 year-round schools. It appears then that year-round schools should be considered as one of the viable options for reducing the achievement gap.
By offering extended school hours and school days in a year, teachers could work in an environment where continuous learning would be possible. Teachers could also use the extra hours of school to work with students who take more time to learn and who face problems in keeping up with the other students in the class. Children and youth who are experiencing more difficulties with academic success would be exposed to more teacher time, which potentially provides them more opportunities to strengthen their skill level and knowledge base.
Year-round schools provide relief for families that require help with daycare. Many families have parents who both work full time outside the home, making it difficult to ensure adequate supervision of children during the summer months. In fact, the current school calendar – which includes the long summer break with little parental supervision, and presumably less adult interaction – could be part of the reason that so much learning is lost and no new learning is accumulated. Extending the school year to include the summer months would ensure both adequate supervision and continued learning for these children.
Many teachers have suggested that the quality of instructional time at school can be improved by employing a year-round school calendar because it offers continuity in the process of education. This is not to say that the only possible answer is a full, required year-round school calendar. It might be possible to achieve the goal of improving overall student learning through variations of year-round schooling which would cater to those students who most need the extra time in class.
In an educational climate that focuses so heavily on standardized testing, while at the same time makes use of a rather short school day and year, some teachers may find it difficult to offer extra time for needy students. Extending the school year could be a great asset to those teachers. Despite some perceived negatives and specific issues that would need to addressed, the idea of year-round schools is continuously gaining support in the United States.
Clearly, a structure for learning is needed that restores our stature as a well-educated nation and contributes to our ability to be a major player on the global economic playing field. Just as important, we need to provide enough time for learning so that young people from all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds can have an education that allows them to grow into competent and confident adults able to choose how to live their lives. Holding on to a rigid traditional school calendar seems imprudent when viewed in light of such goals. The time is ripe to flip the arrangement, so that the traditional calendar becomes supplemental to more effective arrangements of time for learning.
Matthew Lynch is an Assistant Professor of Education at Widener University. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.