Will longer school year help or hurt U.S. students?


“I had a parent at one meeting say, ‘I want my child to lie on his back in the grass watching the clouds in the sky during the day and the moon and stars at night,'” Ballinger recalled. “I thought, ‘Oh, my. Most kids do that for two, three, maybe four days, then say, ‘What’s next?””

But opponents aren’t simply dreamy romantics.

Besides the outdoor opportunities for pent up youngsters, they say families already are beholden to the school year calendar for three seasons out of four. Summer breaks, they say, are needed to provide an academic respite for students’ overwrought minds, and to provide time with family and the flexibility to travel and study favorite subjects in more depth. They note that advocates of year-round school cannot point to any evidence that it brings appreciable academic benefits.

“I do believe that if children have not mastered a subject that, within a week, personally, I see a slide in my own child,” said Tina Bruno, executive director of the Coalition for a Traditional School Year. “That’s where the idea of parental involvement and parental responsibility in education comes in, because our children cannot and should not be in school seven days a week, 365 days a year.”

Bruno is part of a “Save Our Summers” alliance of parents, grandparents, educational professionals, and some summer-time recreation providers fighting a year-round school year calendar. Local chapters carry names such as Georgians Need Summers, Texans for a Traditional School Year, and Save Alabama Summers.

Camps, hotel operators, and other summer-specific industries also raise red flags about the potential economic effect.

The debate has divided parents and educators.

School days shorter than work days and summer breaks that extend to as many as 12 weeks in some areas run up against increasing political pressure from working households—30 percent of which are headed by women. These families must fill the gaps with afterschool programs, day care, babysitters, and camps.

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“Particularly where there are single parents or where both parents are working, they prefer to provide care for three weeks at a time rather than three months at a time,” Ballinger said.

The National Center on Time & Learning has estimated that about 1,000 districts have adopted longer school days or years.

Some places that have tried the year-round calendar, including Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and parts of California, have returned to the traditional approach. Strapped budgets and parental dissatisfaction were among reasons.

School years typically are extended based on three basic models:

• Stretching the traditional 180 days of school across the whole calendar year by lengthening spring and winter breaks and shortening the one in the summer.

• Adding 20 to 30 actual days of instruction to the 180-day school year calendar.

• Dividing students and staff into groups, typically four, and rotating three through at a time, with one on vacation, throughout the calendar year.

At the heart of the debate is nothing less than the ability of America’s workforce to compete globally.

(Next page: What other countries are doing)

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