The Argument for Year-Round School

March 3rd 2015

Jessica Glassberg

“Schoooool’s out. For. Summer…” Could the immortal words of Alice Cooper no longer be valid? For years, there have been debates about the traditional 180-day school year, with a two to three month summer break, versus year-round schooling, with shorter two to six week breaks sprinkled throughout the year.

Numerous studies have shown that over summer break, students lose, on average, one month of grade-level equivalence, most in mathematics. The amount of information retained decreases as students get older as well. Furthermore, according to the National Summer Learning Association, students on a traditional school calendar will typically score lower on a standardized test taken at the end of the summer break than on the same test at the end of the school year. 

Even worse, summer break could contribute to income inequality. Low-income youth tend to retain even less than their middle-class counterparts, according to a study from Johns Hopkins. The is important especially considering, as the study points out, that the summer learning experience of an elementary school child directly impacts the likelihood of earning a high school diploma. It appears that the “summer slide” is not just a matter of having traditional schooling over the summer, it is about keeping students’ brains stimulated. According to research by Seth Gershenson at American University, there seems to be a significant lower “time-use gap” by those of lower socioeconomic status. He notes that much of this time is occupied by television watching. Students whose summer time is spent in a camp or other active setting do retain more of their school year knowledge than their counterparts.  However, in order to find success, students need opportunities to continually learn and practice math, reading, and their cognitive thinking skills. Children’s learning should not stop completely when they are outside their school’s walls. Of course, many of those extracurricular opportunities are not available to low-income children.

Is year-round schooling the answer?

Research is limited on the few schools in the U.S. who have changed to a year-round school schedule. According to Jason R. Olsen, spokesman for the Salt Lake City School District, in 2011, Salt Lake City ended their year-round programs after about 20 years when they realized that comparable local traditional calendar schools were actually earning better test scores. That being said, numerous teachers did note that they found they needed to spend less time reviewing information from the previous school year.

The Utah schools did find the year-round calendar especially useful when there was the threat of overcrowding. Having students on different block schedules enabled the district to avoid the necessity of constructing new buildings, and thus saving them money. Now, 20 years later, when overcrowding is no longer an issue, the block scheduling also prevented those potential new buildings from being only half full.

Similarly, in order to handle capacity issues, as of 2012, there are 50 public schools on the year-round system in in Wake County, N.C.

What Europe gets right about year-round schooling 

It's no secret that the U.S. education system leaves much to be desired and is continuously lapped by Europe, Canada, and Asian countries. Most schools in Western Europe operate year-round, and Europeans have an average of 195 school days a year while compared to the typical 180 days per year in the United States. Europe gives students a few break periods throughout the year, unlike America's three-month summer vacation and Christmas recess. The less time away from school, the more students seem to retain, so Europe's year-round model with shorter but more frequent breaks could very well be part of the reason the U.S. is lagging when it comes to education. 

Other issues for schools to consider.

With the research being inconclusive in regards to students’ overall academic achievements in a year-long program compared to that of having summers off, schools have been looking at the finances of moving away from the traditional timeline. While overcrowded schools might save money on the year-round calendar because they will not have to construct and operate more buildings, year-round schools do typically cost more to run. The budget adds up when accounting for the summer air-conditioning bills, maintenance and additional transportation. Not to mention the added difficulty in tackling any major repairs over a short period.

Who would most likely benefit from year-round school?

Esther Fusco, a professor at Hofstra University's School of Education, Health and Human Services, said in a piece for the Huffington Post, "Research suggests that students in high-needs districts and those who have disabilities do better in year-round learning situations. This is logical because these students do not have the down time that occurs over the summer. But the results are not very significant. I have not seen any study that shows students greatly improve."

However, since most low-income families rely on full-time child care, finding this supervision during numerous shorter breaks tends to be more difficult than one long summer break. 

Whenever there are breaks from the school calendar, it seems clear that there needs to be more of an emphasis on continued learning. Additionally, more of these educational opportunities need to be created and available for all to use, regardless of socio-economic status.