Extending the School Year: What Possible Good will come of More of the Same?
August 9, 2012 by Paul W. Bennett
On Thursday August 2, hundreds of Calgary Catholic school students cut short their carefree summer vacation and headed back for the first day of class. While most students could look forward to a month more of summer holidays, students and teachers at Monsignor Neville Anderson School in Sandstone, AB, returned to school during one of the most glorious Calgary summers in recent memory. Yet a feature story in the Calgary Herald (August 1, 2012) painted a very positive picture, carrying the message that teachers found their “pupils” returning early far “more eager” than those on traditional September to June school calendars. http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/calgary/Summer+ends+early+Calgary+Catholic+year+round+students/7026505/story.html
The glowing endorsement of Year Round Schools running on the so-called Modified School Year (MSY) Calendar flew in the face of most of the accumulating evidence. Extending the School Year, by simply spreading out the holidays, once considered a means to improve student performance and to reduce classroom overcrowding, has produced mixed results since the advent of the MSY concept in the early 1990s. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/debate-over-yearround-ver_n_1668482.html
Over the past two decades, only about 100 public schools
across all of Canada have adopted and implemented the Modified School Year Calendar,
reducing the length of the 9-week summer break and spreading the 180 to 185 instructional days more evenly throughout the year. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/time-to-lead/does-year-round-schooling-make-the-grade/article4261901/
The first of those was the Calgary Board of Education’s Terry Fox Public School
in Falconridge, initiated in 1995. Today the original pilot school still runs on a modified calendar, with students due to return in mid-August on a 45 days on, 15 day break schedule. In the Toronto region, Roberta Bondar Public School
, Peel Region District Board, Brampton, enjoys similar notoriety. South of the border, some school districts that adopted the extended schedule, like Las Vegas
and Salt Lake City
, have actually turned back to traditional school calendars.
Modified School Year supporters claim that extending the school year directly addresses what is termed “summer learning loss.” Reducing the summer holidays from 9-weeks to 5-weeks or less, they believe prevents students from falling behind academically and keeps troubled kids off the streets. Some of the more reliable U.S. research has also shown that students in high-needs districts and students with special needs tend to do better in schools with extended calendars.
Rick Hess, director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, remains unconvinced. Appearing recently on Fox-TV News with Dr. Peter Gray of Boston College, he insisted that extending the school year was “not for everyone” and without significant improvements in teaching, such a move might make little difference for student learning. “We want to extend the school year for kids for whom it would benefit them and for kids who are attending schools where we’re confident the time’s going be used well and it’s going to be used effectively.” http://video.foxnews.com/v/1775447053001/
A strong case can be made to offer the choice of a Modified School Year schedule, particularly if it is targeted for children and families in lower socio-economic communities Less educated, low income families, according to Hess, are more likely to experience summer learning loss, but mandating a longer calendar for all students will not prove beneficial. “Even when children start school at age six in more or less the same space, kids from low income or less educated families are a few years behind by the time they get to high school,” Hess said. “I think we owe it to those kids to do something about it.”
Expanding actual teaching time may well make a difference. The U.S. National Center on Time and Learning reports that more than 170 schools around the United States have extended their school year to more than 190 days, including at least two schools in the state of Missouri. Both schools in Missouri and the majority of schools across the United States that are opting for longer days or longer years are charter schools.
The renowned national charter network Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP
) lists “more time” as one of their strategies for delivering a high-quality education to their students. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVi07IxmVkg
Students at KIPP Inspire Academy
in Saint Louis attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every other Saturday. Additionally, students are required to attend summer school. Their efforts to improve education outcomes for disadvantaged students are now attracting widespread attention and even imitations, like the Citizen Schools.
Ardent supporters of KIPP schools will tell you that it’s as much about what is actually taught in school
as it is the length of the school year.
Extending the School Year is not popular with students and parents for lots of reasons and a sound case has to be made that there will be real gains in terms of student learning and performance. Why is the Modified School Year producing such mixed results? Will simply dividing-up the year differently make much of a difference? What really explains the remarkable success of the KIPP schools in the United States? What’s stopping Canadian provinces and school boards from extending learning time and building more flexibility into the school day and annual schedule?