School’s out for summer. The immortal words of Alice Cooper bring a smile to every child’s face. And that final day of school that ushers in the long summer break is one that is looked forward to with great anticipation.
But is a lengthy summer break good for educational purposes?
The question of year-round school is a hot topic, and each side has its merits. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of year-round schooling.
Pros of Year-Round Schooling
It Keeps Students Brains Charged
With summer break lasting as long as 10 weeks, it seems natural that students would slip out of “learning mode.”
Dr. Marquita S. Blades is an education consultant and speaker who worked as a science teacher for 16 years. One of those years was at an all-girls middle school that operated on a modified schedule which included a minimal summer break. “Compared to other beginnings, it took the students less time to adjust to the routines and culture. They were ready to jump in much quicker,” says Dr. Blades.
“For those students who do not have the means to engage in education rich experiences [over the summer], they lose the gains they made and start the school year at a lower level than where they ended the previous school year,” says Dr. Katie Davis. Dr. Davis is an educational psychologist, clinician, and neuroscience researcher in private practice and on the faculty at Johns Hopkins.
It enhances continuity and pacing of instruction
The end of one school year and the beginning of a new one means dramatic changes, and getting used to new routines and structures. As noted above, this can be time-consuming, which means less time for instruction. Dr. Davis says these transitions are particularly challenging for kids with special needs. “They lose on both ends preparing for and adjusting to the change in schedule.”
Sheri Saurer is a speech language pathologist and behavior analyst who trains educators around Pennsylvania to provide services utilizing applied behavioral analysis. She says: “Teachers may find it difficult to get through the entire curriculum. When the new year begins, time is spent reviewing and re-teaching concepts and material from the previous year.” Such a scenario can delay or even impede progress.
According to Dr. Blades, year-round schooling would impact pacing. “It provides more balanced planning of instruction. However, the kids move at the pace they move. Their growth is subjective to where they started out. Regardless.”
Multiple intersessions provide time to accommodate enrichment and/or remedial instruction
More intersessions (or times when school is in session) could be used as a time for students to make up work or relearn skills. While Dr. Blades believes intersessions would be a good time for remedial instruction, she has never seen them used this way. Instead, the year-round schedule has been seen as a means to being able to cover more material.
Instead, intersessions would seem to be an ideal time for students to focus on things other than academics. Dr. Davis says, “Intersession would be a time where students can learn those things outside of the core subjects [such as music and art] that have been cut from the core curriculum.”
With the multiple intersessions providing more short breaks (as compared to the long summer break), there’s a better chance students will remain in ‘learning’ mode. Therefore, it’s an excellent opportunity to utilize this time for something productive such as enrichment or remedial instruction.
Cons of Year-Round Schooling
Students can’t take on summer camps or temporary jobs, which can be valuable learning experiences
Many people remember their first job with fondness. Even if the work wasn’t necessarily enjoyable, the newfound sense of responsibility made an impact. Critics of year-round schooling often point to summer jobs and other summer experiences as valuable in their own right.
While summer jobs can offer valuable experiences, for some students and families, the money is essential for college and other expenses. Dr. Davis says, “For some kids, employment is a financial imperative rather than an option.”
However, teens can get jobs during the school year and on weekends. “There’s a way it can be done if they want to,” says Dr. Blades. Still, that’s not a great option for students who want to focus on studying and minimize distractions during the school year.
Summer camps and other similar entities can also be education rich experiences. Of course, that requires means to pay for that type of enrichment. “One of the biggest reasons for education iniquities is what happens in the summer. Those without resources to do things in summer find their disadvantages are compounded because of it,” says Dr. Davis.
Still, for those who can partake, Ms. Saurer believes operators of the camps would make do, “I think that those who offer summer camp would offer something else during those brief breaks. The market would adjust.”
Extracurricular scheduling conflicts
For many students, extracurricular activities are a highlight of their school years. Whether it’s as a member of an athletic team, drama club, musical ensemble, debate team, etc., extracurricular activities offer students ways to explore and develop interests. Participation in extracurricular activities is undoubtedly a valuable experience.
For year-round schooling to be compatible with extracurricular activities, all area and even state schools would have to be on the same schedule. “If competing regionally and statewide, those who don’t share breaks will face scheduling conflicts,” says Dr. Blades. “Scheduling problems will come up for extracurricular activities, and it will impact the community.”
Inconclusive academic benefits
The most obvious reason to have year-round schooling is for the academic benefits. However, research about the academic impact of year-round schooling has not clearly shown it is beneficial. One challenge in proving that year-round schooling is beneficial is that there are numerous factors that impact academic performance, which makes isolating the effects of this one aspect difficult.
While Dr. Davis agrees the academic benefits have not been clearly proven, she believes the answer is clear. “As America falls behind in terms of being educationally competitive, countries in Asia and Scandinavia that have longer school years are moving forward. Competitiveness does correlate with the number of school days.”
Adjusting the school year so that there are shorter breaks but no extra schooling would offer benefits, particularly for those students who are special needs and or financially challenged, but it would also bring unique challenges that might even affect life outside of school. What might Alice Cooper have to say about that?
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