Longer school year: Will extended school day add competitiveness?
Will a longer school year help American students be more competitive with their counterparts in Asia and Europe? Students in five states get ready for a shorter summer vacation in order to find out if an extended school day helps or hurts academic success.
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Besides the outdoor opportunities for pent up youngsters, they say families already are beholden to the school calendar for three seasons out of four. Summer breaks, they say, are needed to provide an academic respite for students' overwrought minds, and to provide time with family and the flexibility to travel and study favorite subjects in more depth. They note that advocates of year-round school cannot point to any evidence that it brings appreciable academic benefits.Skip to next paragraph
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"I do believe that if children have not mastered a subject that, within a week, personally, I see a slide in my own child," said Tina Bruno, executive director of the Coalition for a Traditional School Calendar. "That's where the idea of parental involvement and parental responsibility in education comes in, because our children cannot and should not be in school seven days a week, 365 days a year."
Bruno is part of a "Save Our Summers" alliance of parents, grandparents, educational professionals and some summer-time recreation providers fighting year-round school. Local chapters carry names such as Georgians Need Summers, Texans for a Traditional School Year and Save Alabama Summers.
Camps, hotel operators and other summer-specific industries raise red flags about the potential economic effect.
The debate has divided parents and educators.
School days shorter than work days and summer breaks that extend to as many as 12 weeks in some areas run up against increasing political pressure from working households — 30 percent of which are headed by women. These families must fill the gaps with afterschool programs, day care, babysitters and camps.
"Particularly where there are single parents or where both parents are working, they prefer to provide care for three weeks at a time rather than three months at a time," Ballinger said.
The National Center on Time & Learning has estimated that about 1,000 districts have adopted longer school days or years.
Some places that have tried the year-round calendar, including Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and parts of California, have returned to the traditional approach. Strapped budgets and parental dissatisfaction were among reasons.
School years are extended based on three basic models:
—stretching the traditional 180 days of school across the whole calendar year by lengthening spring and winter breaks and shortening the one in the summer.
—adding 20 to 30 actual days of instruction to the 180-day calendar.
—dividing students and staff into groups, typically four, and rotating three through at a time, with one on vacation, throughout the calendar year.
At the heart of the debate is nothing less than the ability of America's workforce to compete globally.
The U.S. remains in the top dozen or so countries in all tested subjects. But even where U.S. student scores have improved, many other nations have improved much faster, leaving American students far behind peers in Asia and Europe.
Still, data are far from clear that more hours behind a desk can help.
A Center for Public Education review found that students in India and China — countries Duncan has pointed to as giving children more classroom time than the U.S. — don't actually spend more time in school than American kids, when disparate data are converted to apples-to-apples comparisons.