Source: Sherman Publications

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Are year-round schools the answer?

by Trevor Keiser

March 12, 2014

Because there is evidence that shows that students lose much of what they learn over the summer if they're not in an active learning mode, particularly in lower performing schools, Governor Rick Snyder in his State-of-State Address suggested looking at year-round schools.

"Again, I'm not suggesting this for every corner of Michigan, but I think it would be appropriate to look at a pilot for low-performing schools . . . to help give those kids every chance to be successful, and so I'll ask that we look at that," Snyder said in his speech.

While there has been talk over the years about whether or not year-round schools would benefit all students, not just those in lower-performing districts, Oxford's Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction Dr. James Schwarz doesn't seem to think so.

"I think in the research that's out there whether it's your typical school year or it's a year-round school year, the biggest impact is the quality of the teacher. To say that year-round schools are better or offer more opportunity for learning for kids is really the same," Schwarz said. "What it boils down to is the quality of that teacher. You can have a year-round school type of calendar and it can be a lesser experience than a traditional calendar for that kid if the quality of that teacher is poor."

The governor's proposal would be the same amount of days that students currently get in a traditional calendar year, just spaced out differently.

Schwarz admitted that the lap of time being spaced out differently could certainly help in summer regression. The flip side, he said, is "children learn valuable lessons during the summer."

"Learning doesn't just take place in the classroom," he added. "When families go on trips or kids are outside playing, there is a lot learning that occurs within those experiences that they're not going to get in the classroom."

As far as changing current traditional schools into year-round, Schwarz wouldn't see it as a smooth process.

"Parents love it, parents hate it," he said. "You're going to get quite a big push-back with that."

Schwarz said they have talked to teachers informally about the topic over the years and just like with parents, there are teachers who love the idea and others who hate the idea.

Summer time is also an important time for teachers as well, he pointed out.

"Even though they are on 'vacation' they're still doing work for their classroom with curriculum, or writing new assessments or for the district with new types of unit planning and professional development," explained Schwarz. "A lot of the trainings that teachers go to are often times in the summer. That time is useful for them in preparation for the next year, outside of that relaxation factor."

While it's a conversational piece that pops up every once in awhile, Schwarz said they keep going back to the research.

He believes in districts concentrating to get the "best quality teachers" to fill positions.

"Often times, you can get more bang for your buck (by) getting a quality teacher in your traditional calendar year than an average teacher in a year-round calendar."