Mention year-round school and you are likely to get groans from kids and teachers or jokes from parents about being happy to save money on summer camp. But people continue to discuss the year-round school debate because people feel strongly about improving education. In year-round schools, kids attend classes for six to nine weeks at a time, with two- to four-week breaks.
The big question educators and parents are asking is whether year-round schooling improves literacy development. While there's conflicting information about how year-round schooling affects all students, proponents highlight the benefits for low-income students: They tend to do better in year-round schools.
A 2019 analysis of year-round school scheduling explains that the two types of year-round schools — single-track and multi-track schools are designed to meet different needs. Single-track schools have students all attend on the same calendar with the summer break replaced by shorter "intersessions" throughout the year. The goal is to curb summer learning loss and provide time for remediation or enrichment activities. Multi-track schools have students attend classes on separate calendars, or tracks, and take breaks at different times through the year. The objective is to expand building capacity without having to construct a new school or install portable classrooms.
Benefits of Year-Round School in the U.S.
For low-income students who lose more of their literacy development during the three months of summer, year-round schooling can be quite beneficial. When teachers are required to be on campus year-round, struggling students have access to regular tutoring and support they otherwise would not have in the summer months. Shorter breaks between school terms mean that students are able to avoid gaps in learning. Proponents of year-round schooling mention other benefits:
- Saving money on school facilities and staff resources
- Reducing class sizes and overcrowding in classrooms
- Alleviating the need for new school construction
- Preventing student and teacher burnout
- Decreasing teacher and student absences
- Increasing opportunities for extra help and studying
Challenges in Year-Round Schooling
The traditional schooling calendar was created to allow children to harvest crops with their families when the U.S. was more of an agricultural society. Few children need this anymore regardless of rural, suburban or urban settings. Fueling much of the year-round school debate is the notion that frequent breaks sandwiched between six to eight weeks of schooling create a stop-and-start routine that slows progress.
Research has not been able to prove that children in year-round school experience significant improvements in literacy development. Parents complain that short two-week vacations make it difficult to find childcare. The disruption to people's current nine-month schooling plans seems obvious. Few people like this kind of change unless it results in unprecedented success rates, which the year-round school debate has yet to uncover.
Do Any Other Countries Have Year-Round Schooling?
Several countries have academic years that go year-round. Japan's school year runs April through March. Japan is on a trimester system, with breaks between each trimester. Australia's school year begins in late January and ends in mid-December. One of the main topics in the year-round school debate is how much time kids from other nations spend in school versus students in the U.S.
Many education analysts and politicians argue that kids in India and China spend 25% to 30% more time in school. The United States requires schools to operate 175-180 days per year with students attending most schools on a 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. schedule.
Other countries, like France, may have longer school years, but offer similar instructional hours. For example, students in France have a two-hour lunch break. They also attend school for half-days on Saturdays, but do not have classes on Wednesdays.
Ultimately, time in school and year-round schooling does not seem to affect the academic performance of the majority of students as much as previously thought. Students in Iceland, Finland, and Ireland all attend class for fewer hours and days, yet score higher in math, science, and reading.
Regardless of which side of the year-round school debate a teacher takes, the fact that at-risk students lose academic ground in the summer, often called summer slide, is still an issue in the U.S.
Literacy development is more successful when students are engaged in daily literacy and meaning-making activities around print. It makes sense to pay close attention to studies that show what factors improve literacy development so that educators can help students be as successful as possible.
Learn more about the UTA online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies program.
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