Year Long School Debate
February 7, 2018
In favor of year-round school
Winter break is nearing and many students at South are counting down the days. After a stressful semester, most high schoolers need these two weeks off to spend time with loved ones and relax, if not more. As one of the students who looks forward to this break, I believe that we need to provide students with more time off throughout the school year by transitioning to year-round school. This distribution of school days would be better for the mental health of students and teachers, and would improve the knowledge retention of all students and particularly benefit lower income students.
Although some countries that follow a year-round calendar have many more school days than the U.S., many American supporters of year-round school suggest the same number of school days simply with a different distribution.
South senior Lennon Baker thinks year-round school would be a better alternative to the system we have now. “I think that the current system that we that use is outdated and doesn’t suit the needs of modern students… A lot of people go home after the school year, and they come back and they’ve forgotten half of what they learned.”
Another proponent of year-long school at South is Michelle Ockman, an English teacher for the Open program. “I tend to get exhausted as a teacher. So, I really appreciate breaks and the possibility of four longer breaks… like a three week fall break, a three week winter break, a three week spring break and then a six week summer break. I think that would not only be awesome for teachers to be rejuvenated, but also for kids to have less time over the summer to lose what they’ve learned,” Ockman explained.
This learning loss – nicknamed the “summer slide” – describes the knowledge students lose over summer break. One study in Canada by The Globe and Mail newspaper found that students in year-round school did much better academically than their counterparts in a traditional school setting. The number of students who met or exceeded the province’s standards in year-round school was around twenty percent greater than the average.
This slide particularly affects lower income students. According to Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap from the American Sociological Review in 2007, two thirds of the ninth grade achievement gap in reading can be attributed to summer learning loss.
The truth is that only wealthier children are able to experience many of the opportunities those in favor of traditional schooling support. Enriching activities such as expensive summer camps and out of country vacations are not the reality for many students. So even if students from different socioeconomic backgrounds are leaving school with the same abilities, after three months it can be a different story.
Ockman also points out that school is a stable environment for many students: “For a lot of kids, school is a very stable place. So when they don’t have school, a lot of times they don’t get meals… or also make poor choices.” The stability seeing friends, supportive adults, and getting two meals a day, is a needed constant in the lives of many students.
Baker also thinks that year-round school could help the year to year transitions of high school. “There’d be less forgetfulness in terms of spending weeks or months away [from school]… It would be more of a slow progression. You wouldn’t see as many jumps, where people suddenly feel overwhelmed at the start of the year. I think it would be less stressful for a lot of students and help students adjust to harder classes as they age up,” Baker explained.
Another senior at South, Ted Jorstad, agrees. “I think that it would be better for students in terms of the material they are learning.” Jorstad added that year-long school would allow teachers to provide more depth to the content they are teaching.
Transitioning to year-long school may seem difficult, but its popularity in the U.S. is already increasing. A summary of year-round schools from the Congressional Research Service noted that from 1985 to 2000 the number of U.S. students in year round schools grew from 350,000 to 2,200,000. The process for our country to fully transition would be long and difficult, but it is possible.
Ockman outlined some of the details that might make year-long school successful. “I think when it starts in a community and it’s community-based and then it spreads that way, that’s probably easier for people to handle. If they feel like they’ve had some input or say on whether or not [year-long school] is going to happen, that’s helpful. Mostly just informing people about the benefits and how they’re lives are not going to fall apart… you have to communicate.”
I don’t believe that year-round school alone will solve all of our issues. To improve our education system we need better access to pre-kindergarten, more funding, and smaller class sizes. However, year-round school would be a good place to start.
In defense of summer break
You’re in your first class after returning from summer break. The teacher is giving a lesson that should seem easy, but you don’t understand it. ‘If only there wasn’t such a long break, then I might actually be understanding what I’m learning,’ you think. But does it really work that way?
The existing traditional school year is an effective system that should not be changed. Although some think that switching to year-round school would increase learning retention between school years, the traditional school calendar does not actually cause learning depreciation.
The argument for year-round school proposes a switch from the existing school calendar towards more frequent school breaks that are smaller throughout the year. Proponents argue that this switch would eliminate the loss of knowledge during the summer called ‘summer slide.’
Although this may make theoretical sense, a recent study in Wake County NC by Elon University would suggest otherwise. The extensive study, conducted on over 50,000 students from a wide range of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, found that there is little-to-no impact for the transition to year-round schools. “Our results imply that dividing a long summer break into more frequent shorter breaks does not have a positive impact on achievement as measured through standardized test scores,” the study wrote.
“In our model of learning loss, these results are consistent with… a constant rate of depreciation, which together indicate that the timing of learning is not important, only the amount of learning,” it continued to say.
Because the rate of learning depreciation is constant, merely changing the order of the school breaks would not create more learning retention. South Open teacher Robert Panning-Miller spoke about his experience of learning loss over breaks: “It’s a number game… There’s always a bit of recuperation that’s necessary coming back from any break. So if… the break is two weeks, or the break is ten weeks, you are just dividing it up.”
Panning-Miller also acknowledged the importance of an extended break on mental health: “For some of the students, the stress of school is very intense and just being able to get away from that for a long period of time is going to be very helpful.”
Because students have time to recharge, they come back in the fall with a learning mindset. “There’s definitely an excitement in September that you don’t see in January. Coming back from winter break there’s definitely a feeling of wishing it was longer because those breaks aren’t long enough to really shut down…. It’s more of a sadness coming back from a short break,” said Panning-Miller.
The ability to recharge after an extended period of working is not only crucial to students’ mental health but is also key to keeping students engaged. Students learn more efficiently without being constantly distracted by the nice weather outside. “Trying to keep students focused, or students keeping themselves focused on a nice summer day is really challenging… There’s an attention issue that is a big challenge in summer that you don’t have on a cold day or a cloudy day,” Panning-Miller said.
Additionally, summer opens up opportunities that would not be available with year-round school. For many high schoolers, the summer is a time to grow socially and developmentally. As Panning-Miller said, “There is so much that people need to learn and do outside of the classroom… to learn about the world, learn how to interact socially, explore other opportunities. I don’t think you’d have the same opportunities over shorter breaks.”
The summer is also an opportunity for youth to join the workforce. With year-round school implemented, both students and businesses would be hit hard. Companies are unlikely to hire during the sporadic and irregular year long school cycle so many students would miss out on workforce experience. The traditional school calendar allows many students to have a summer job while not being forced to balance school and other life commitments.
Additionally, some students are able to take advantage of other opportunities during a longer summer. Freshmen Seare Mebrahtu spoke of his experiences in the summer: “In the summer we usually go to…Eritrea or Ethiopia… to learn about our culture.”
For Mebrahtu, this opportunity would not be available with a year-round school calendar. “Year-round school…it’s not that good because people can experience new things in the summer, they can do new things, they can try new things but you can’t find that experience in school,” he said. “If there was year-round school we wouldn’t be able to learn our culture.”
Year-round school may seem to help students upon first glance but problems arise upon further investigation. The current system may not be perfect, but it’s better for students’ mental health because it allows students to fully recharge after a sapping school year. Additionally, summer break is an important time for students to grow and explore new opportunities outside of the classroom.