Tuesday, June 20, 2006

You School Me Year Round Baby Year Round Gotcha Down Year Round Year Round?

I’ve been thinking about year round school lately.

On one hand, I’m tired by the end of the year. Someone somewhere once used a pitcher analogy that I really liked; when you’ve poured so much of yourself into the kids over the course of the year, it takes time to get filled back up so you can start pouring again.

On the other hand, a function of year round schools (as I understand them) is that there are more frequent breaks throughout the year; a whole month at Christmas, for example, or two weeks for spring break instead of the customary one. Would the end-of-year exhaustion be helped if there were more time off during the year?

Summer vacation is an ingrained American tradition, though. Parents plan their vacations around it. There have been efforts lead by the hospitality and tourism industries in some states (notably Florida) to make sure that there is a summer vacation, with school getting out as close to Memorial Day as possible and not going back until Labor Day.

On the other hand, if you showed the parents that they would have more opportunities during the year to take trips, perhaps they would be more accepting. I know one of my frustrations is when the parents come up to me things like, “We’re going to California for a week starting tomorrow….can you send homework?” If there were more windows for time off during the year, would they use them appropriately?

A big stumbling block is professional development. Here in Washington you’ve got to earn a Master’s degree, and the way to do it that’s easiest on you is to take a couple of classes during the school year but you load up over the summer. If summer vacation was only 6 weeks, say, it’d be almost impossible to have a meaningful classload during that time.

It’d be better for the kids, though. The big Evidence Based Approach to School Finance document that Washington Learns recently put out says this:

Research dating back to 1906 shows that students, on average, lose a little more than a month’s worth of skill or knowledge over the summer break (Cooper, Nye, Charlton, Lindsay, and Greathouse, 1996). Summer breaks have a larger deleterious impact on poor children’s reading and mathematics achievement, which falls further over the summer break than does that of middle-class students. This loss can reach as much as one-third of the learning during a regular nine-month school year (Cooper et al, 1996). A longitudinal study, moreover, showed that these family income-based summer learning differences accumulate over the elementary years, such that poor children’s achievement scores—without summer school—fall further and further behind the scores of middle class students as they progress through school grade by grade (Alexander and Entwisle, 1996).

I’m all for putting the kids first, but summer is about the only time during the year that I put me first, and I can’t figure out how to reconcile that conflict.

Anyone out there have experience with year-round schools? There aren’t any up here; I’d love to talk to someone who’s been there.


Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

We have, in the Atlanta area, what is called a balanced calendar. We begin school sometime during the first week of August ( I know, it's hot). We have Labor Day in Sept. and a week in October off. We have another week in Nov. and two in December. MLK Day in Jan. and Spring Break the first week in March. School is out before Memorial Day. I have eight weeks for Summer Break and I think that's more than enough for the kids. Most districts in my area are now following some version of this schedule. I love it.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Tamara said...

I work at a year round school in Los Angeles. Overall I love it, but like anything, there are some drawbacks.

First I'll tell you my schedule. My school is on a 3 track system. That means there are 3 groups of teachers and students. A, B, and C track. Each track has alternating months off. We have 3 tracks because the school has 4800 kids. HUGE!

In B track ( which is the track with the shitty schedule, I'll explain that shortly)we have the full months of Sept, Oct, March and April off. Each track works 4 months then gets 2 months off. To compensate the time, we work a 45 minute longer day (classes are like ten minutes longer than traditional calendars). In addition to our 4 months off, we get a week at winter break, the usual 3 or 4 day holiday weekends.

The biggest drawback of B track is that we don't have a real break between school years. For example. Our year officially ends June 30th. The new school year starts July 5th. That's a wopping 5 days. :) What's even more weird is that finals end MOnday, grades are due Tuesday, seniors graduate Wed, but officially school is in session until Friday...which is lame. I'm going to be "sick" those last 3 days.

Anyway, I like the 4 months on, 2 months off. I like that I can sort of plan my time in quarters. I also like that there doesn't seem to be MAJOR teacher burnout. I mean, I'm burnt right now, ready for a break, but that's partially because I've had many of my kids since last July, and we're sick of eachother. :)

2:51 PM  
Blogger The Rain said...

Tamara: Your school sounds a lot like the one Rafe Esquith describes in "There Are No Shortcuts." I could see the July-to-June thing getting awfully tedious; by the end of our nice, normal school year some of the kids were at each other's throats.

EHT: What you describe is what kind of appeals to me about the idea of year round school, the more frequent breaks. Has it presented any kind of a problem in terms of the kids not getting their family vacations?

1:17 PM  
Blogger Spangles said...

I teach at a year round (aka modified calendar) school in Virginia. We have a number of ESL kids and low-socioeconomic families. I love our calendar because it really is best for our students. During our 2 week breaks, we offer remediation and enrichment classes. Our students retain information and have a consistent schedule (and lunch).

The downside? It makes it difficult for teachers to participate in professional summer activities. I have things I want to do! And these things will help me be a better teacher! But alas, missing a week or two of school at the beginning of the year is hard for us to make work. It's nice to have a school in my system with a crazy calendar, but I wouldn't recommend it for an entire system.

4:14 PM  
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