Summer vacations, and their long lazy days were one of the high points in my collective childhood memory banks. Summer itself is arguably my favorite season - mostly due to my disklike of footwear and aversion to the cold. So, any professsion that gives me a lifetime of permanent summer vacation is clearly the career for me. And after witnessing first hand the enormous volume of work that teachers actually do - grading papers, preparing lessons, research and reading for class, much of it at home - that oftentimes summer vacations aren't just an awesome job perk, they are necessary to regroup, recharge and reinvigorate oneself for the next year of daily classroom life.
Recently it seems there have been more school districts abandoning the traditional American school year in favor of a balanced schedule, or in educator's parlance "Year Round Education" (YRE). Since 2008, Department of Education statistics show that almost 2.5 million American students are currently on the Year Round Education Plan.
Proponents of the longer school year have some high-profile supporters, notably President Barak Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Their Race to the Top program, where states compete for $4 billion in funding by highlighting their plans for reform are pushing school districts to re-evaluate the way they train and evaluate teachers, promote parental involvement, and in some cases have students spend more time in the classrom by switching to a balanced year model.
Year Round Education certainly has its upsides. Most American schools are based on the traditional model, where students spend 10 months of the year in school, and 2 months running wild and free. The balanced calender would reduce the long summer break and re-distribute those days throughout the school year. Instead of having long periods of instruction followed by an long break, the school year would include more frequent breaks but would be balanced with the number of days in session.
One of the benefits of Year Round Education, is that the less time children spend out of the classroom in one long stretch, the less time the new information teachers have so meticulously pored into their skulls has to leach out of their ears.
Studies have shown that year round schools are particularly beneficial to students with lower socio-economic backgrounds. The argument goes, middle and upper income students often have access to enrichment activities that encourage learning throughout their summer vacation. Things like summer camp, tutoring programs, even family vacations all provide valuable experiences and are great enrichment opportunities that promote learning. Students from lower income families often don't have access to these same opportunities. In fact, studies have shown that the achivement gap (like standardized test scores, and college admission rates) tends to grow steadily between low SES and higher SES students over the course of their elementary career. The most significant growth in the gap is shown to be in the fall months, right when students are returning from summer vacation.
Year round schools seems to be particularly beneficial for at-risk students in low-performing areas and English-language learners. Although, this can also be attributed to added instructional days, and that year round programs also resulted in smaller class sizes.
At this point most states (excluding New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Mississippi, and Wyoming) have schools that offer a year round schedule.
As a product of the traditional school year I'm not quite sure how I feel about this yet. A couple short breaks a year are nice...but summer vacation is so so sweet.