I just read that some schools in Michigan are getting government funds to test out a new year round school regimen. My first reaction was It’s about time. American schools have considerably longer summer breaks than some better-performing schools in Europe and Asia, and we all know how much students forget over the course of a summer.
To be clear, the year round school isn’t exactly accurate because students will still receive long breaks. Some suggest a five-week break in the summer, with several two-week breaks at other times, or breaks of varying lengths throughout the course of the year, with Fridays off during summer months. It’s unclear to me if the “year round school” would still only have 180 days of class — as traditional nine-month schools do — just split up over 12 months, or if they’d have more school days total.
Whatever the case, year round school would present a dramatic change for students, teachers, parents, and communities.
After reading some on the subject and doing a little thinking, I’m less convinced that year round schooling is the right move. I’d be interested to know what you teachers, parents, and students think.
In favor of year round school
1. Students will forget less
I know how much Spanish I forgot between freshman year and sophomore year. A lot. A whole lot. The same is true for math and history and pretty much every subject. Between the time one school year ends and another begins, a whole lot of knowledge seems to evaporate. Shortening that three-month brain-drain would probably do a great deal to help students retain knowledge.
2. Teachers won’t need to waste time reteaching
Building off that first point, the problem with a three-month summer break is not only that students forget all those equations and theories and facts; it’s also that teachers then have to spend the first month or two reviewing all that necessary information. This was definitely true in my experience. Going back to school in September meant rehashing old building-block knowledge from the previous year until Halloween. If teachers didn’t have to spend so much time recapping and reteaching, they could teach more new, important things. If, say, teachers could teach nine months of new material every year instead of seven, after 12 years of school a student would have received 108 months of “new” learning compared to 84. That cumulative effect is huge!
3. Maintaining the environment
Frankly, being in school helps kids say off the streets. Kids will be kids — and some of them will get into trouble no matter what — but if a kid doesn’t have three months of downtime, he (or she) doesn’t have all that undirected time to fall into bad habits. If school is a place that offers safety, guidance, and opportunity to advance, it seems like the more time kids spend there the better.
4. Kids have more to look forward to
This may seem counterintuitive, but I think it holds up. We all remember what it was like looking forward to Christmas break, spring break, and then summer. Those were the three highlights of the year. If students were offered, say, six short breaks a year rather than two short ones and one extremely long one (the way things are now), they’d have that constant anticipation, which might be a good motivator or source of happiness.
On the other hand…
Against year round school
1. Give teachers a break
When I was a student, I thought summer break was for the students. It is, but only partly. Now that I have friends who are teachers and recognize how many hours they put in (way more than most other professionals I know), it’s clear they need a break too. A nice long one. There are few classes of worker that work harder (for less pay) than teachers, and a lot of me thinks they just deserve a long summer break.
2. Time to work
Not only is it good for students to get a long break for the purposes of fun and rejuvenation in the summertime, it’s also the only time they can find work. In my experience it’s good for high school students to have summer jobs, which would be considerably more difficult if their breaks were cut down to two-to-six weeks.
As I note in the pros section above, year round school with more breaks interspersed would give kids more time-off periods to look forward to, but if school is never more than a couple weeks away, students are likely to get burned out. If it feels like they’re constantly in school or awaiting it just around the corner, will they feel the full refreshment that comes with traditional summer breaks? I’m not sure they will.
4. Breaks can be distracting
It typically takes a few weeks to get into the swing of things at school after a break — longer for some students. Suppose in the year round school program, there’s a break every six or eight weeks; that means as soon as students begin to feel settled, they’re off again. If shortened breaks come too frequently, as they’d almost have to in the new system, it becomes harder for students to ever get into an uninterrupted groove.
5. But what about the sunshine?
This may or may not be a legitimate point against year round school, but at least in the midwest, we only have four or five months of really beautiful weather. Kids don’t want to be in school during that time, and maybe they shouldn’t be. We already know students have a harder time paying attention in class when the sun is shining outside and they just want to get out there and play. Maybe we should take advantage of the summer months and use most of our vacation time then, as opposed to spreading them out in smaller pieces during months when its less fun to do anything active outdoors. If you’re going to give kids time to play, let it be in the summer!