Educators Move Cautiously Toward Year-Round Schools
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Goodbye long summer vacations. Some kids could be spending a good part of them in school.
Educators are viewing with increasing favor the idea of keeping schools open year-round to make American students more competitive with those abroad. At the very least, some say, the length of the school year should be extended.
About 660,000 students attending nearly 800 schools across the nation now attend school throughout the year - many on a schedule of nine weeks of school, three weeks of vacation.
″It’s going to be the thing of the future, there’s no question about it,″ said Thomas A. Shannon, executive director of the National School Boards Association, which represents 15,350 local school boards.
″Schools today are tied to the agrarian calendar and it has a lot of negatives,″ said Shannon, explaining that during summer breaks students’ daily rhythms change, recreational facilities are strained and school buildings are left idle.
″The practical problem is how to juggle the schedules (with the new system) and we’re still working on that,″ he said.
Experts and policymakers generally believe that students will improve their academic performance by retaining more of what they learn with breaks lasting three weeks each rather than with one, three-month vacation.
Beginning in July 1991, all 646 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District will go on a year-round schedule; 102 Los Angeles schools already operate year-round.
Utah also has passed a law to encourage school districts faced with severe growth problems to adopt year-round plans.
Also gaining favor is the concept of longer, conventional school years.
The Maryland Board of Education has recommended adding 20 days to the school year. The District of Columbia school board has endorsed adding 40 days.
Indeed, the landmark 1983 school reform report, ″A Nation At Risk,″ made as its strongest recommendation a school year of 200 to 220 days.
″The only industrialized nation with a school year shorter than ours is Belgium, with 160 days,″ said Samuel Sava, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
He said Japan has the longest school year, with 243 days, followed by Taiwan, with 240. South Korea’s school year is 220 days; Israel’s; 215, and Scotland’s 200.
But don’t tell teachers at the Romeoville, Ill., High School that the time has come for year-round schools. After eight years of nine weeks on-three weeks off, the school returned to a more conventional calendar in 1980.
″I don’t hear anyone in the halls talk about the good old days,″ joked Ronald Mander, assistant principal at Romeoville.
″Education is an emotional business. It takes a lot of energy from the teachers and they need a break,″ said Mander. Romeoville High School began operating year-round mainly ″to help keep ahead of a dramatically increasing enrollment,″ said Mander.
The school immediately began quarter-length courses and, initially, teachers worked without vacations.
While youth, enthusiasm and the idea of ″making a year-round salary″ carried the teachers for a few years, Mander said, ″after a couple of years, it got to be very taxing.″
Of the 775 to 800 schools with year-round systems, an estimated 80 percent are elementary schools.
Like Romeoville, seventy-five percent of the year-round schools adopted the practice because of overcrowding, said Charles Ballinger, executive director of the National Association for Year-Round Education in San Diego.
And, like Romeoville, three-fourths of the schools divide students into four groups with staggered schedules, so that at any one time one group is on a three-week vacation.
The other one-fourth of the schools have all students attend classes and take vacations at the same time.
Although almost 800 schools are open through the year, only seven keep students in class for 215 days or more. The longest school year is 240 days.
Ballinger said four of those schools are public institutions - two elementary schools in New Orleans, a high school in Buena Vista, Va., and another in Minnesota; three are private schools, two in California and one in Chicago.
The first school to adopt an extended-year program - 215 days or more - was in Hayward, Calif., in 1968. The next year, a school in St. Charles, Mo., followed suit. Both still have the programs, Ballinger said.
One argument against year-round schools is cost.
Officials in Montgomery County, Md., estimate that each extra day would cost about $2.2 million in additional salaries, transportation and utilities.
The National Parent-Teachers Association takes no official position on the year-round school concept and the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, says only that teachers should be fully involved in planning such programs.
What do principals think of year-round schools?
″Basically, I’m not opposed to it,″ said H. Dale Spaulding, principal of the Lampeter-Strasburg High School in Lampeter, Pa., pointing to research that shows teachers spend less time reviewing course work and students retain more in year-round schools.
″But I’m not in favor of it if it is happening for convenience sake″ in cases in which officials are trying to avoid expanding school facilities, he said.
John D. Delaney, principal of Parker Middle School, Reading, Mass., opposes the idea.
″In most cases, it’s just such a huge, time-consuming and emotional adjustment on the part of families, lifestyle patterns, vacation patterns, sports programs and everything else. I wonder if it’s worth it,″ said Delaney.
″If people want to make a significant change, I think they would put teachers on a more extended work year. I think we need to upgrade both the status and productivity of the teaching profession. The only way to do that is to put them on a (year-round schedule) that provides a lot more time for preparation and teacher development,″ he said.