Return to NAYRE Home Page

Extended Year-Round Schooling, Extended Success

 by Jeanette Wat

Naperville, Illinois


Meet John and Jane.  Both are high school students; John is from Naperville, Illinois, and Jane is from Shanghai, China.  Each school day throughout the year, John always feels stressed with a crunched learning time and accumulating loads of homework.  He must either relinquish in-depth learning or cut sleeping time in order to accommodate the workload.  When June approaches, John is first excited, as the long-awaited summer break finally arrives, and he can rest.  But his brief excitement soon disintegrates into boredom by the too long summer break.  He is overjoyed when school finally starts again after the long break, only to discover that he has forgotten much of the material he learned before the break.  John is a student of a traditional school that provides 9 months of education and 10 weeks to 3 months of summer break every year.

            Jane is in a very different situation.  Not only is she not stressed, she even feels relaxed because her learning time is not crunched.  In fact, she has many more school days than John – thus, she always has enough time to go in-depth in learning which both stimulates her and builds her a rich and solid knowledge base.  Unlike the exhausted John, she does not need to cut sleep because she has enough time to learn and do homework.  Above all, she does not have a long summer break to forget what she has learned.   Jane is from an extended year-round school that provides continuous education all year long.

            While I pity John and wish that he could be as fortunate as Jane, I also realize that over 95% of the students in this country, myself included, are in the same situation.  We are students under the traditional school system which was designed many years ago when our country was primarily an agricultural nation, and children were often needed to assist in the farms during the summer months.  Consequently, an agricultural school calendar was developed in order to give children a long summer break specific to this purpose.  It is clear that the traditional school calendar is not a calendar for learning, and this has caused students serious problems that require solutions from an extended year-round schooling system.

            The first problem is summer learning loss.  Like John, after a long summer break, students forget the material they have learned before the break, and thus require substantial amount of time in the fall to re-learn the previous school year’s lessons.  Ron Fairchild, executive director of the John Hopkins University Center for Summer Learning, reveals his research data that “on average, students lose approximately 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months.”  The loss of knowledge subtracts time from learning new material.  According to David Payne, former principal of Homestead High School, “teachers are spending easily up to six weeks trying to review what had happened in previous years.”  This situation negatively impacts students’ progress.  If the problem is not addressed, summer learning loss will accumulate year after year.  The affected students soon find themselves falling so behind that there is no way for them to catch up, leading to their dropping out of the school in the end.

            The second problem is the creation of inequities in learning opportunities.  During the long summer break, some students have the opportunities to enroll in summer courses.  These courses, however, are usually not free of charge.  Studies published by Occupational Outlook Quarterly, a U.S. Department of Labor publication, show that 33% of teens aged from sixteen to nineteen enroll in school during the summer.  The rest, like John, are either working or idling at home.  Students who are more financially privileged are more likely to afford the tuition of summer courses than poorer students and thus have the chance to enhance their knowledge and opportunities, as well as academic achievements.  In fact, two-thirds of the population in our community do not have summer education opportunities.  As a result, gaps in knowledge and opportunities are created between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” which translate into unfair circumstances and put most of us in a disadvantaged position in our community.

The third problem is insufficient learning time.  In order to provide a long summer break, learning must cram within a shorter period of time, which requires students like John to either give up a comprehensive learning or cut sleep, both of which are undesirable.  Furthermore, a long summer results in less learning time and less knowledge acquired.  This problem becomes magnified in the international arena.  According to Don Glines, Ph.D., director of the Educational Futures Projects, an association that supports year-round schooling, a traditional school year in the U.S. is usually 170 to 180 days, compared with the 240 to 260 days in most European and Asian school systems.  A typical traditional American school day consumes six-and-a-half to seven hours, compared with the eight to nine hours internationally.  It is no wonder that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley concluded, after his vacation in China, “The idea, still having two months off, is ridiculous in this country.  If you’re going to compete with India and China, they’re going to school six days a week and they don’t take the summer off.”  Under the traditional schooling, our students have less time to learn than their international peers, so they learn less.  Yet we send them to compete in the increasingly competitive world, with less knowledge equipped than their competitors.  This sets them up for failure.

Extended year-round schooling solves all of these problems caused by the traditional schooling.  It provides more continuous learning time by breaking up the long summer and re-distributing it to shorter and more frequent breaks throughout the year.  School days in the year are organized into multiple instructional or learning sessions followed by brief intersession breaks that can be used for enrichment or improvement courses.  There is also a summer break which is much shorter than that in the traditional schooling.  The extended system extends school days beyond the 180 schooldays widely used in the U.S.  Since there are no long summer breaks, students’ summer learning loss problem is solved.  As Charles Ballinger and Carolyn Kneese indicate in their book, School Calendar Reform, “A balanced year-round calendar provides a logical pacing of instruction, followed by regular breaks.  Refreshed by the breaks, teachers and students return ready to work.”  Kathy Belsheim, a teacher of mathematics and reading from the Minnesota Center operating year-round schools comments on this advantage from her experience: “The kids haven’t lost any learning and everyone comes back refreshed.”  Another teacher of mathematics and science from Minnesota center, Gary Hawkins, remarked: “It’s like they’ve come back from the weekend.  They are basically ready to go where we left off; there’s very little review.”  The year-round system not only resolves the summer learning loss, it also eliminates the review or re-learn time on material forgotten.  In addition, the unfair phenomena created by the accessibility of summer learning programs also vanishes, since there are equal educational opportunities for all students in the enrichment or improvement courses throughout the year.  Furthermore, with more learning time provided to the students, learning becomes less rushed.  Teachers do not need to squeeze a large amount of content into a short period of time.  Students can both pursue in-depth learning while still being able to sleep and finish homework.  No wonder Jane feels so relaxed!  Students and teachers now can afford to go deeper and broader into the knowledge base of subject matters.  This enhances our ability to equip our students with more knowledge to successfully compete internationally.

Despite its powerful effect, it is true that only a small percentage of schools in the U.S. currently adopts the extended year-round schooling – less than 4% for the year round and less than 0.4% for the extended systems.  However, the trend of adoption has been growing.  The number of students in year-end schools has increased four times since 10 to 15 years ago.  It takes time to widely change an education program that has been used in this country for many decades.  People get used to it, and it is human nature to resist change.  Some of the resistance, though, originated from the organizations of summer recreational programs and other summer programs.  It is, therefore, important for us to focus on our students and their needs.  We then see that we just cannot maintain the status quo on traditional schooling and continue to put our students in a disadvantageous position.

To strengthen our students’ academic position, the extended year-round schooling has the flexibility to support up to 260 school days every year, which is 80 additional days on the original 180 days.  As an initial step, however, I propose that we start with a 200-schoolday extended year-round schooling using a 50-10 Plan that organizes the 200 days into four 10-week instructional sessions, each separated by a 2-week intersession break, and with a 4-week summer break.  This initial system would provide us with valuable experience and useful data for subsequent steps.

            Many students in our country have been disadvantaged long enough by the traditional schooling, which was designed to solve yesterday’s farm labor problem.  We cannot expect our students to compete successfully across the globe with the baggage of summer learning loss and insufficient learning time.  Their international peers do not have this baggage –  look at the difference between John and Jane!  Progress has been made, though, in various parts of the country to move to an education system that matches our time, and the trend is rising.  However, we need to accelerate the process so that more and more students in the U.S. can soon be relieved from the bondage of the traditional schooling.  It takes courage and effort to change an old, long-grained educational system that has been with our country for decades.  But our effort will be well-rewarded when we reach our goals of raising our students’ achievements and eliminating inequities.  The extended year-round schooling with 200 school days on a 50-10 Plan is the solution to the problems of traditional schooling, and it is the means to reach our goals.