Consider a typical elementary or secondary student in the United States. As September rolls around mom takes him to the store for new clothes, maybe a notebook, new pencils or pens, or crayons depending on his age. With all this new stuff he may even be excited about the new school year (though that is more likely if “he” is a she). Off he goes on the first day of school to meet his new teachers, maybe some new friends and to undergo the rite of passage of being in a grade more advanced than last year.
By the end of September that student has probably settled into his new class. More importantly, his teachers may have finished re-teaching him what he forgot over the summer. By November he is glad for a Thanksgiving break and by mid-December he is more than ready for Christmas vacation. By the time June rolls around, he is tired of school and of his teachers. He can't wait for summer vacation to start. The teachers are also tired of the students and the administrators are tired of the students and the teachers.
The student’s next three months often include family vacation, playing with neighbor kids, maybe camp or a summer job. The first month is great, he enjoys the freedom. The second month is OK. However by August he probably gets bored and complains to his mom that there’s nothing to do. He has had three months to forget what he learned during the school year. Meanwhile the expensive buildings and equipment at his school have been unused.
That type of school year is the heritage of our agricultural past. It made sense when children were needed on the farm for the summer. It still makes sense in many agricultural regions, but not in most urban areas.
There has to be a better way – and there is.
Some places already have year-around school, with students in school for nine weeks and then on vacation for three weeks. Total class time is the same as with the standard year but that class time is more evenly distributed. They find this more effective than the traditional school year. Kids don't get as antsy toward the end of the school year, nor do they get as bored toward the end of a summer vacation. Teachers don't have to spend the first month in the fall re-teaching what the kids forgot over the summer. Because they do not need to re-learn so much, students can learn more effectively. In addition, schools can divide students into four tracks, with one track on vacation and three in school at any given time. That reduces the number of schools needed and frees up resources for other uses.
This is one of those ideas with which almost everybody wins. Students like it; teachers like it; most parents like it. Taxpayers like it because it reduces the number of school facilities required. The only opponents are typically administrators who have to do extra work to manage the different tracks of students. This type of school year is especially effective in elementary schools where there are no sports programs. However I’m confident that it could be made to work in secondary schools as well. Athletes could show up to practice and games even during the time their track is on vacation. In fact those playing fall sports already show up for practice before school starts.
It’s high time we got rid of the anachronistic school year and started using something more effective. This would make for better use of educational time, providing the benefits of more class time without actually requiring that class time.
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