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School Districts Switching to Year-round Calendar

Does switching to a year-round calendar cure the problem of the "summer learning setback"?

A story posted on MSNBC earlier today reports that by 2012, 10 percent of American school kids could be attending classes year-round. This doesn't mean that they've lost their summer vacation entirely; rather, every nine weeks or so, they (and their teachers) would get a four-week respite.

The adoption of the year-round education model has been taking gradually and quietly. It has the endorsement of President Obama, though there are studies that show the schedule doesn't lead to kids learning more material.

In a month, Indianapolis will be voting on whether or not to adopt year-round classes. The school district is plagued by high dropout rates and low test scores. In 2009, only 25 percent of its schools met federal standards.

Chicago is currently pushing to transition all its schools to a year-round model, and Houston may soon take the plunge. President Obama is in favor of extending school years, though he hasn't stated exactly how he would do so (either structurally or monetarily). As he said in a Today show interview a month ago:

[S]tudents are losing a lot of what they learn during the school year during the summer ... The idea of a longer school year, I think, makes sense. Now, that's going to cost some money ..., but I think that would be money well spent.


A recent Rasmussen poll found that nearly two-thirds of American adults are against adopting a year-round calendars. Many complain that extending the school year comes at the cost of students getting summer jobs or going to camp.

A 2007 study out of Ohio State University found that the sort of school year that Indianapolis is considering adopting leads to the same gains on math and reading tests as traditional nine-month schools. According to the author of this study, Paul von Hippel, year-round school years don't add days to calendar. If Indianapolis changes to a year-round schedule, however, it will add 20 days to its school year.

The design of the year-round school year is meant to combat the loss of progress that takes place in the summer months, especially among low-income students who often don't read over the summer or participate in activities that keep them learning during the break. A teacher at a school in Indianapolis that is already experimenting with a year-round school year told MSNBC that it takes her two weeks to get kids back up to speed after a break, rather than the customary six. When his study came out, however, von Hippel said that the extended school year wouldn't thwart the "summer learning setback," but instead would "spread it out across the year."

Do you think schools should be adopting a year-round school year? Is it a design that could be beneficial to low-income and minority students, but detrimental to well-off ones? If so, how could that issue be reconciled?

Photo (cc) via Flickr user woodleywonderworks.

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