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Growing up while mainly focusing on my grade school days K-8 there was no major intellectual differentiation between my friends and I. We had all gone to class, done our homework, studied for tests, and had fun on summer break! We all went to school at roughly the same time, and we all got home at about the same time. However, I did have a few friends that had a peculiar lifestyle growing up; they had attended a year-round program of this nature at Crossroads Elementary in St Paul, Minnesota. Here at this school they press the idea of further knowledge without having to review back as much as a contemporary public school with a 3 month summer break. Depending on specific school situations, some school boards may want to pursue this year-round option while others will be better off avoiding it. While financial and facility options may be viable over other options to ensure that a growing school populations needs are still met.
Free public education began in the United States in the middle of the 1800s. At that time, far more than half the population lived in rural areas and farming was a major occupation for fifty to sixty percent of the nation (Kennedy, Cohen, & Bailey, 2010). Schooling was a year round objective; however, students had a poor attendance rate during the summer months and doctors had reason to believe that they would've spread more common diseases. Poor ventilation, both teacher and student mental burnout, and prime vacationing weather were all reasons to keep school closed during the summer months.
However, over the years the country has become more urbanized, "The 1920 census showed for the first time in American history that over fifty percent of the population lived in cities (Kennedy, Cohen, & Bailey, 2010)." Moving along into the 21st century has enabled even more technological advances reducing the need for help on the farmstead. However, is that transition and those similar worth considering allowing the option for year round schooling; however, this reason alone is not a viable reason to actively pursue a year-round schooling approach.
With today's American society, an education is the forefront to be successful. We as humans cannot deny that simple fact. An education, is defined as: "the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In schools, it is determined as a definitive intellectual process to learn and understand a standard base amount of information set by a nationwide school board. Specific school boards in different locations across the country have decided to embrace the standard curriculum; however, it has been formatted across an entire year, rather than the standard traditional school schedule with a 3 month summer break.
Looking at the concepts researched by five main different researchers in search of reasons to support the traditional school method; much like myself, these researchers had originally intended to support year-round schools and in turn had disproven the concept.
Ballinger stated, "The most important reason for changing to year-round schedules is to eliminate learning loss that occurs during the summer" (Ballinger, 1995, p. 28). With a school year extension and spreading out the break into 3-4 different periods, school boards hope to ensure a shorter time for "information dumping." This process can be basically described as when students "dump" or absolutely lose all information that isn't prevalent to summer's activities. It is said that most individuals subconsciously lose their ability to cognitively perform at the level they had retained at the end of the prior school year. By elongating the time students spend in school over a year, and efficiently reducing the lack of knowledge lost, in essence they are able to push forward on a more direct course. Since less time will be spent on remedial coursework, more time can be spent on pushing forward onto deeper knowledge; brushing into controversial topics and being able to efficiently discuss those topics with classroom input.
It has been proven that students in a year round school do as well as or slightly better than those in a traditional school setting. However, this higher average is only in a few specific areas; such as, a base reading level, and a base natural understanding at the lowest levels.
Of the few concepts that are discussed against the idea of a year round school is the ability to inactively reach and assist all children and their learning needs. Ballinger stated, "Different students have different learning needs" (Ballinger, 1995, p. 30). Which is simplistically true, however, year round schools apply multiple intelligences and best practice unless the administration and the teachers spent time to change their teaching styles, and that can be done just as well in a traditional school calendar. He also stated, "If an elementary student is struggling with fractions or a middle school with algebra, intersession becomes an opportunity to take immediate corrective action" (Ballinger, p. 30). However, not entirely all schools can maintain this high level of correlation with their students. While this process can be implicated in year-round school systems, this system is already being implicated through summer school opportunities.
A case study was held in a large Utah school district and Alberta, Canada between 12 schools total by Carolyn M Shields (1996). Her goal was to determine the effectiveness of (multi-track) year round schooling against traditional elementary schools. Shields had conducted this case study by using surveys, quantitative tests, as well as interviewing teachers, staff, and students. While Shields was conducting this study at the elementary level she had focused on the following areas: "total reading, total math, total language, total basic battery, total science and social science" (p.7). Shields then indicated when it had come time to test, aside from the total reading scores, "all other differences were found to be non-significant" (p.7). This indicates by Shields study, that higher reading scores were produced from the year-round schooling vs. traditional-calendar schedule schools. So this raises the question, why would we embrace this system if the results are ultimately similar? When we look at where the most improvement occurs to help understand why we would even consider the concept of tailoring our communities to a year round schooling system, Shields demonstrated "the greatest amount of improvement occurred for students at the lowest achievement levels" (Shields, 1996). Indicating that the source of this huge improvement is the remedial courses offered during breaks for children that desire them. When it came down to it, during this research Shields stated, "The similarities of both student academic and non-academic outcomes suggest that the school year calendar is not a major factor in determining the quality of the educational experience which students receive" (Shields, p. 27). However, it had also been proven that students, once accustomed to the year-round schedule they had "also felt that their teachers individualized instructions more (Shields, 1996)."
Not all school years are entirely similar; however, one commonality is that most schools release for summer break within a week or two of Memorial Day in May, and resume a week or two around Labor Day in September. There is both a single and multi-track school program. The most common is a single-track program in which teachers and students are both on the same schedule; with 45-15 day schedule, a 60-20 day schedule, and a 45-10 day schedule. In this case the first number represents the amount of days spent in school, whereas the second number represents the number of days the student spends on days off school, or break. These are times when students can come into school and receive either remediation or enrichment courses (National Association of Year-Round Education, 2010). Where in a traditional school system, children will not have the confusion of trying to find a time for remedial coursework, when rather, they may attend the classes in the summer.
The less common multi-track school system enacts a 45-15, 60-20, or 90-30. This option is usually taken to compensate for too many students, and is a better alternative than building completely new facilities. Multiple tracks can be run at different times to increase the total student/staff capacity (National Association of Year-Round Education, 2010). Certain schools with increasing enrollment that do not have the means to construct newer facilities or in lower financial income areas may want to seriously embrace the multi-track systems.
A look into a second case study will help emphasize that not necessarily all schools and districts across the country and necessarily ready for a year round schooling schedule. Bradley J. McMillen reported a case study in which he attempted to focus on the main positive aspects of year-round schooling in North Carolina. Majority of the information pulled for this study was based off of end-of-grade exams in grades third to eighth grade from roughly 100 different schools. While keeping in mind the different student demographics in the study, the "major difference in McMillen's study is most schools, 87% are on a single track, year-round schedule as opposed to a multi-track" (McMillen). Over the basic premises that not much of the overall percentages change too drastically; most of the change will occur at the lowest levels of the education system on both schedules. "Although the scores did not significantly increase in the other areas students in year-round schools coming from households with parents having a high school diploma or lower scored six percent higher than students from the same home status at traditional schools (McMillen)."
While both Shields and McMillen's studies show barely any significant change in the final outcome in test scores, McMillen noted both studies, "[do] not speak to the differences between single and multi-track schedules and [do] not differentiate between the two calendars based on the amount of instruction time" (p 14). While the very basic test scores can be a measure of the qualitative results, it can not necessarily properly depict other aspects of education. While some studies show minor gains in low socio-economic areas, some studies "suggest that year-round schooling can improve teacher professionalism" (Kneese).
One individual preformed a study and without having to instill any information, tests, or added faculty teaching methods, attempted to collect the main reason on why schools should switch to a year round system. While the test scores remained similarly the same, one of the biggest reasons to switch over to a year-round school schedule: when the financial and academic gains become worth the change, the foreseen schedule must be worth extending a school year, rather than investing in a new building to provide enough room for students and faculty (Kneese).
While most situations involve qualitative test scores and measuring improvements between different facilities, when in reality "what really should be examined is quantitative data like attendance, student drop-outs, and referrals recorded by the schools" (Ophiem, Mohajer, and Read 1995). While there is an expansive amount of quantitative information, there seems to be a lack of qualitative. Opheim, Mohajer, and Read (1995) had noticed this lack of qualitative evidence and sought to change it. While targeting traditional and year-round schools they had conducted qualitative surveys of administrators in Texas. These three had sent out all of one hundred and five surveys sent out to fifty-nine year-round elementary schools, forty-six traditional elementary schools, whereas only sixty-one surveys were returned. Only "Seventy-one percent of the year-round school surveys were returned, while 41% of the traditional calendar school surveys were returned," (Ophiem, Mohajer, & Read) which could impact the final qualitative results. In these surveys sent out to the schools the principles were asked to fill out a response along with the faculty on the productiveness of their work. Based on the information received, and lack thereof; "the principles believed year-round schooling showed academic improvement, but most of the improvement came for bilingual and special education students" (Ophiem, Mohajer, & Read 1995). While there is no data to support the basic academic performance of students, or any connection between academics and extra-curricular activities; the schedule had no positive or negative influence on any extra-curricular activities.
One challenging side to this elongation of a school year is the cost and availability of staff. On one side, looking at the big picture of elongating a school year, school prices will rise; however, if you logically think about it, if the same period of traditional "summer break" is evenly distributed over a year, the cost financially is the same. One main reason for switching to a year-round school system is to better accommodate the rising student population without desiring the support of the local community funding to expand into a new facility. The facility would be open to students year round; while in most traditional schools, the campus may be open to students over the summer for athletic purposes as well as an academic reason through summer school. The feedback of costs with both traditional calendar and year-round schooling were mixed, "there was no evidence that single-track year round schooling saved money over the cost of operating a traditional school calendar" (Ophiem, Mohajer, & Read 1995).
Schools should turn their attention towards the idea of year-round school systems; because, although the information provided provides no major tangible evidence in favor of supporting the concept of a switch. The list of individuals that have researched this information said that the small intangible gains are more important, one analysis of data reduced student dropout rate and increased attendance. The teacher motivation towards teaching seems to be higher in year-round school systems, while also claiming "that the shorter breaks actually motivated students and supported academic growth" (Grooms & Smotherman, 2003). The pure hope from instilling the year-round system is improving student outlook on education and improving the ability of teachers being able to teach the same material repetitively without getting bored or losing the much needed motivation.
Not all schools should consider tailoring to a year-round schedule. Based on the given information, the best schools that would benefit from this transition are schools with low motivation, increasing enrollment without proper funding, and students in desire of remedial coursework. There is not sufficient enough evidence to prove that all schools in America should transfer to a year-round system. Although there may be tangible gains, and there may be small amounts of hypothetical evidence towards intangible gains, but those cannot be promised to everyone in every situation.