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Should We Consider Year-Round School in the U.S.?

Mention year-round school and you are likely to get groans from kids and teachers or jokes from parents about being happy to save money on summer camp. But people continue to discuss the year-round school debate because people feel strongly about improving education. In year-round schools, kids attend classes for six to nine weeks at a time, with two- to four-week breaks.

The big question educators and parents are asking is whether year-round schooling improves literacy development. While there's conflicting information about how year-round schooling affects all students, proponents highlight the benefits for low-income student: They tend to do better in year-round schools.

A 2014 congressional report explains, "There are two types of year-round schools -- single-track and multi-track schools. Single-track schools (are) aimed at curbing summer learning loss and providing blocks of time that can be used for remediation or enrichment activities. ... Multi-track schools (are) designed to expand capacity without having to build a new school or install portable classrooms."

Benefits of Year-Round School in the U.S.

For low-income students who regularly lose much of their literacy development during the three months of summer, year-round schooling can be quite beneficial. When teachers are required to be on campus year-round, struggling students (who lose about 27 percent of learning gains over the summer) have access to regular tutoring and support they otherwise would not have in the summer months. Shorter breaks between school terms mean that students are able to avoid gaps in learning. Proponents of year-round schooling mention other benefits:

  • Saving money on school facilities and staff resources.
  • Reducing class sizes and overcrowding in classrooms.
  • Alleviating the need for new school construction.
  • Preventing student and teacher burnout.
  • Decreasing teacher and student absences.
  • Increasing opportunities for extra help and studying.

Challenges in Year-Round Schooling

The traditional schooling calendar was created to allow children to harvest crops with their families when the U.S. was more of an agricultural society. Few children need this anymore regardless of rural, suburban or urban settings. Fueling much of the year-round school debate is the feeling that frequent breaks sandwiched between six to eight weeks of schooling create a stop-and-start routine that slows progress. Research has not been able to prove that children in year-round schools experience significant improvements in literacy development. Parents complain that short two-week vacations make it difficult to find childcare. The disruption to people's current nine-month schooling plans seems obvious. Few people like this kind of change unless it results in unprecedented success rates, which the year-round school debate has yet to uncover.

Do Any Other Countries Have Year-Round Schooling?

Several countries have academic years that go year-round. Japan's school year runs April through March. Japan is on a trimester system, with breaks between each trimester. Australia's school year begins in late January and ends in mid-December. One of the main topics in the year-round school debate is how much time kids from other nations spend in school versus students in the U.S.

Many education analysts and politicians argue that kids in India and China spend 25 percent to 30 percent more time in school. Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan published a report that found that U.S. students spend the same amount of time in school as those in India and China. According to this U.S. education report, "China and India are important comparisons, but other countries could provide even greater insight into whether U.S. students are spending as much time in school, particularly countries that typically score high on international assessments, such as Korea, Japan, Finland and Canada, as well as economic competitors such as England, France, Germany and Italy." The results of this comparison showed that by the eighth grade, students in the U.S. spent more time in school than any of these countries. Ultimately, time in school and year-round schooling did not seem to affect the majority of students as much as previously thought.

Regardless of which side of the year-round school debate a teacher sits on, the fact that students lose a lot of ground in the summer (often called summer slide) is still an issue in the U.S.

Literacy development is more successful when students are engaged in daily literacy and meaning-making activities around print. It makes sense to pay close attention to studies that show what factors improve literacy development so that educators can help students be as successful as possible.

Learn more about the UTA online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction -- Literacy Studies program.


Education Week: Year-Round Schooling Explained

Scholastic: The Pros and Cons of Year-Round Schools

Education Week: Should the U.S. Switch to Year-Round Schooling?

Education Week: Year-Round Schools Get Fresh Look in Congressional Report

Center for Public Education: Time in School: How Does the U.S. Compare?

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