Year-Round School: Is It the Right Choice?

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Year-Round School: Is It the Right Choice?
When most adults think about school, they likely picture a schedule that allows students to start in September and study until June. Once June hits, it's summer vacation season, bringing long days at the pool, summer jobs and summer camps. But this isn't the case for some students around the United States. Many public school students are now enrolled in year-round school, a new way of viewing instruction and providing educational services to more students than ever. What's wrong with a traditional school calendar? Well, nothing. The traditional school calendar rotation was created when the United States was an agricultural-based society and students were needed to help their families in the fields during peak planting and harvest times. At the time, cultivating and bringing in the crops that would feed the family for the year was a bigger priority than reading and math for most people. Since most families are no longer bound to the agricultural calendar, many school systems are moving away from this traditional model in favor of year-round school. Year-round school was developed in response to changing educational and economic needs in certain areas. It's often used in school districts experiencing overcrowding, but it has been shown to offer some academic benefits as well.

What Is Year-Round School?

Year-round school is an umbrella term used to describe any school schedule that operates for all 12 months of the year. A year-round school schedule still provides 180 instruction days for each academic year, but instead of cramming them together, it balances out the 180 school days over the span of the entire year. This is accomplished by alternating periods of instruction with several shorter breaks throughout the year, rather than opting for one long break each summer. Although methods for implementing year-round school can vary, it's typically designed to provide approximately two months of instruction followed by two to three weeks of break.

Year-Round School Facts

Over 3,000 schools in the United States operate on a year-round school schedule. This encompasses approximately 10% of all public school students. Around the world, students in Japan, Australia, China, South Korea, North Korea and Niger also participate in year-round schooling, although its implementation varies between countries. Year-round school can be implemented in several different ways. The most popular model is the 45-15 plan in which students receive 45 instruction days — which works out to nine weeks — and then a three-week break. They alternate in this pattern throughout the year until they have reached 180 days. At that time, they are promoted to the next grade level. Other models include the 60-20 and 90-30 plans, which follow the same alternating pattern of instruction and then break. Some school systems operate with all students on the same track, meaning they all get the same instruction days and the same days off. Other school systems offer a multi-track schedule that alternates breaks and instruction time. This system is often employed in school systems where they have more students than available classroom space. By rotating students through at different times, these schools can provide instruction to a bigger population without spending the money to build new classrooms.

Pros of Year-Round School

There is still a lot of debate among educators and parents about the effectiveness of a year-round academic calendar versus a traditional one, and the research on the subject still raises a lot of questions. Why is year-round school better for students? Advocates of the year-round school believe the benefits of year-round school include:

1. Students Benefit From Shorter Breaks

students benefit from shorter breaks during the year

When students are only gone from the classroom for three weeks instead of three months, they won't have time to forget as much of the information they were previously taught. And, for students who are behind their peers, shorter breaks mean that they have more opportunities to catch up because the shorter breaks get them back in the classroom and remediation activities faster. A bonus for parents is that their children don't have as much time to get bored as they do during a three-month summer vacation. What parent wouldn't enjoy a break from "I'm bored"?

2. Students Benefit From More Frequent Breaks

Another argument in favor of year-round school is that students learn better when they can take more frequent breaks. Instead of working hard for nine or 10 months with very little time off, they receive time to rest their minds and their bodies every two to three months. Many year-round school advocates believe this improves a student's eagerness and ability to absorb information, as well as reduces the impact of academic burnout.

3. Teachers Benefit From More Frequent Breaks

Teachers who are employed by single-track year-round schools may also benefit from a year-round schedule. Providing breaks every few months allows teachers to rest and plan, preventing burnout and improving their ability to present well-planned and thoughtful lessons to their students.

4. Students Miss Less School

Although there isn't a statistic to conclusively prove this, many proponents of year-round school say that the presence of regular breaks means students miss less school for family events and vacations. Why? It makes it easier to plan activities when school isn't in session because families don't have to wait until summer to plan events and trips.

5. Efficient Use of School Space

efficient use of school space

Rather than paying to leave schools empty for three months out of the year, year-round school keeps school buildings occupied. The idea that money isn't being wasted on buildings sitting empty is appealing to some, especially those charged with efficient use of school funds and resources. It's also beneficial in school districts that need to accommodate more students than they have buildings for because year-round school provides an opportunity to alternate school sessions. When students alternate breaks and instruction time, schools can accommodate more students in the same amount of physical space.

6. Reduces the Need for Remediation

When traditional schools begin each September, they spend the first several weeks of school reviewing topics students covered — and forgot — the year before. When a school operates on a year-round schedule, there isn't a great need for remediation. This frees up more instruction time to teach new concepts and teach them more thoroughly. Some school systems can eliminate their summer school remediation program, which also frees up space in their budget. This can especially benefit students who are struggling academically because it provides more continuity in their instruction.

7. Benefits Low-Income, High-Risk Students

Staying in school year-round has been shown to have a positive impact on low-income students who typically struggle the most to retain information during summer vacation. In fact, low-income students have been shown to lose 27% of the academic progress they make during traditional summer vacation. The implication behind this information is that a year-round program benefits those who are at higher risk for falling behind or potentially dropping out of school. However, there is still debate about this benefit. Although some argue that academic exposure is what creates the achievement gap between low- and high-income students, others argue that the variation comes more from their environment outside of school. Higher-income students tend to spend more time participating in available non-academic experiences, such as museums, camps and enrichment activities, while low-income students often do not have as much access to those activities.

8. More Opportunities for Vacation

Summer vacation has always meant that most families take their family trips in the summertime. This means that beaches, amusement parks, resorts and other vacation destinations are usually overcrowded and overpriced during the summer months. For families with students in year-round school, this opens up the opportunity to take vacations during the "off-season," meaning they can enjoy fewer crowds and cheaper rates wherever they go.

Year-Round School Cons

Although there are several positive benefits to year-round school, the year-round school debate continues largely because of the negative aspects surrounding it. Why is year-round school bad? Besides a lack of compelling statistical evidence proving that it improves academic scores, many teachers and parents believe there are several reasons why school should not be year-round.

year-round school has its cons

1. Lack of Consistency

Because students have breaks approximately every two months, it can be difficult to adapt to a schedule and really get involved in a subject. There's just not time to dive in when you're racing to wrap something up before the next break. It can also cause problems for students participating in extracurricular activities, including sports and orchestra, especially during competitive seasons when they need to be focused and in top shape to compete.

2. Disruptive to the Family Routine

The lack of consistency also extends to the families of the students attending year-round school. With breaks every couple of months, families can struggle to adopt and maintain a routine. Working parents also struggle with finding childcare for two to three weeks at a time — as opposed to parents of traditional students who rely on summer camps and enrichment programs during their students' annual break. Parents of year-round school students may be forced to take time off of work if they cannot find childcare during those times or endure the stress of piecing together childcare every couple of months.

3. Teens Can't Get a Summer Job

High school students who attend year-round school can't pick up a summer job because they're only off of school for a couple of weeks at a time. In many states, students are limited to how much they can work after school, which means year-round students have very few opportunities to work. Communities that rely heavily on summer tourism face the prospect of losing their teenage workforce during the community's busiest time of year if a school system converts to year-round school.

4. Teachers Can't Get a Summer Job

Many teachers rely on part-time summer employment to stretch already meager teacher salaries. If they're in a contract with a year-round school district, then those they can't take advantage of summer opportunities. This can also limit their time for professional enrichment since many teachers have traditionally completed in-services and professional development courses during the summer months.

5. Students Can't Get Involved Outside of School

Summer has traditionally been a time for school-aged children — especially teens — to attend camps, volunteer and otherwise engage with their community. If they're in year-round school, they lose out on the opportunity to participate in many of these activities. Sure, certain volunteer activities are year-round, but many teens rely on the extra time they have when they aren't in school to focus on these other opportunities. If they're forced to balance school and volunteer work, they may not be able to commit as fully to a volunteer opportunity.

6. It's Not Happening Everywhere

When only certain schools and districts engage in year-round school, it can divide families. In areas where a multi-track year-round school is available, some families can end up with their children on different tracks — essentially ensuring that they have different breaks and no chance for vacations or other outside activities. It can also make things more difficult for students who want to participate in summer programs offered at universities or through non-profit organizations, as well as student-athletes who want to participate in travel sports and other enrichment camps that are typically offered during the summer months.

How Do Year-Round School Schedules Work?

Because year-round school is often implemented as a solution to overcrowded schools, a year-round schedule would look something like this: Elementary School A houses a full-time teaching staff divided up to work with students on five different year-round tracks. On any given day, four of the tracks are busy in school, while the fifth track is on a three-week break. Then, when the fifth group comes back from break, another group will have completed a session and head home for three weeks of their own. The groups continue to cycle through until each grade level has completed 180 days of instruction. Then the students are promoted to the next grade and their new academic year begins.

Stay Organized All Year Long

Should school be year-round? Ask a group of teachers or parents, and you're sure to get many different options. Whether your school follows a traditional calendar or you're a year-round school, the key to success is staying organized. Keeping track of assignments and events allows students and teachers to stay focused on the present while planning for what's ahead.

stay organized year-round with student planners

Success By Design is an industry leader in developing paper planners and organizational materials to help students and teachers make the most of their academic year. We offer a variety of custom planners and other organizational products, and our goal is to help students and teachers succeed no matter what learning environment they're a part of. As technology continues to expand its global reach, we're often asked, "Why should I buy a paper planner for my students?" The answer to this question is simply that the act of writing down assignments and upcoming events results in greater retention of information, as well as improved cognitive ability and language development. What teacher wouldn't want those benefits for their students? Ready to take the school year by storm? Check out our selection of custom planners, folders and accessories online.

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