Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Opinion
Education Opinion

Is Shorter School Year a Threat?

By Walt Gardner — June 25, 2012 2 min read

Reformers confidently assert that reducing the number of days students spend in school will be a disaster. Since most states define a school year as consisting of 180 days of learning, they charge that anything fewer will shortchange students (“Shorter school year is a nonstarter,” The Sacramento Bee, Jun. 24). I’m not convinced.

Rather than automatically assuming that school time per se is the issue, I think it’s how the time is spent that is crucial. In fact, more time alone is likely to be counterproductive under the present antiquated timetable. During the 28 years that I taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I remember vividly how little was learned by students in the last few weeks of the semester. Students and teachers were both exhausted. The lockstep five classes-a-day, five-days-a-week schedule was responsible.

We can deceive ourselves that unless we emulate the instructional hours of our competitors abroad our students are doomed. But I maintain that it’s far more effective to redesign the typical 180-day school year in light of the severe budget shortfalls facing most states. Specifically, it would have regular two-week breaks. These frequent mini-vacations would maximize learning and minimize burnout. Instruction indeed would be more intense during the learning blocs than at present, but it would stand a better chance of being successful.

I say that because of what economists call the law of diminishing returns. Up to a certain point, adding more resources will provide maximum yield. After that point has been reached, however, anything additional results in smaller yield. In other words, every additional unit of input leads to lesser and lesser output. In education, it means that increasing the school year beyond a certain point will not increase learning. (I’m assuming that reformers don’t want teachers merely to be babysitters.)

Critics will be quick to note that no one knows where the sweet spot is. They point to schools in high-performing countries on tests of international competition, which supposedly have a much longer school year. But “The data clearly shows [sic] that most U.S. schools require at least as much or more instructional time as other countries, even high-performing countries like Finland, Japan, and Korea” (“Time in school: How does the U.S. compare?” Center for Public Education,” Dec. 2011).

So let’s not become alarmists about the new realities confronting schools districts across the nation. There can be a silver lining in the cloud formation.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Branding your district matters. This webinar will provide you with practical tips and strategies to elevate your brand from three veteran professionals, each of whom has been directly responsible for building their own district’s brand.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. school districts are using hybrid learning right now with varying degrees of success. Students and teachers are getting restless and frustrated with online learning, making curriculum engagement difficult and disjointed. While
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
America is more divided than ever—and dangerously so. We need not look any further than the recent attack on the U.S. Capitol while Congress was certifying the results of the presidential election. The denial of

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Clinical Director
Garden Prairie, IL, US
Camelot Education

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read