One possible plan, similar to some already in place, would break the school year into four quarters, 45 days in length. This plan contains the same number of school days as the traditional school year--180. Another plan, containing four 60-day quarters, would represent a real change from the present system, and would contain even more school days than were recommended by the National Commission on Excellence in Education last spring.
But whether it contains 180 or 240 days or a number in between, there are several advantages to a year-round schooling plan:
- Economy. Year-round schooling would be economically more sensible than the present system. It would more efficiently use the existing overhead cost of capital construction and material. Overhead costs for plant facilities (school buildings), operating equipment (desks, chairs, etc.), and materials (books, audio-visual equipment, etc.) are, for all intents and purposes, fixed. Thus, the more hours of use you can squeeze into a fixed calendar schedule, the more economically you use fixed overhead items.
Spreading the school population over the school year decreases the in-school population at any one time by as much as 25 percent. This could cut down on the total classroom area needed.
The major argument used to rebut the economic advantages of a year-round school schedule is that such a schedule would require air conditioning in the summer, and that the cost of installing air conditioning in the schools would be prohibitive. But this installation is a one-time cost, heavily outweighed by its long-term benefits. As with any school facility, the real cost is spread out over many years of use.
There are other advantages that are not strictly economic. Even here in the cold New England states, there are days in June and September that are so oppressively hot that little real schooling takes place--thus we currently do not really “use” the scheduled 180 days in the school year.
And many teachers would agree that days are lost in early September and late June “getting going,” and “getting ready to be gone.” Typically, the school year may be more like a bell curve, with a lot of time ill spent in beginning and ending rituals. With a year-round schedule made possible through some additional capital outlay, some of this lost time could be better used. Instructional time would not be lost be-cause of the weather or the patterns of activity in the school year.
Some administrative and clerical staff currently work year round, so there would not need to be an increase in their salaries.
At the elementary level, this flexibility might be used to offer either advanced programs or enrichment classes. The elementary-school child who needs help in a certain area would be able to keep pace with classmates even while receiving special attention. For example, a student would be able to pick up in the optional fourth-quarter parts of the schedule he missed while receiving special attention. Thus, a year-round schedule would enable us to cater to the needs of special students without necessarily placing those students behind their classmates.
The “teacher” part of me rebels against everything that seemingly threatens my teaching world. At the same time, that part of me which is a parent and a taxpayer wonders why, if this system is obviously better for the student, it is not immediately put into place. If we, as educators and parents, evaluate the logic supporting this change alongside the inertia of tradition, we must agree that there exists a compelling argument for year-round schooling simply in the benefits it would bring to students.
A version of this article appeared in the January 11, 1984 edition of Education Week as For Both Students and Teachers, Year-Round Schooling Makes Educational and Economic Sense