When public schools first started popping up in the U.S., they were considered secondary to other hands-on pursuits. Learning to read, write and perform basic arithmetic in classrooms was not equal to or greater than the actual work of building the nation and keeping up family farms.
Even when a basic public school education became a relative priority, the school calendar revolved around agriculture - a necessity of the American way of life. Three months off in the summer months was not mandated because students needed “down time” or free creative play or time to decompress from the pressures of their studies. Those months off were full of even more work, and little free time, and plenty of hard work for the sake of the family and the nation.
Though family farms as a whole have become an antiquated piece of American history, the idea of summers off from school is still alive and well. The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research finds that the average American student receives 13 weeks off of school each calendar year - with 10 or 11 of those coming consecutively during June, July and August (approximately) - while barely any other countries have more than seven weeks off in a school calendar. Around 10 percent of U.S. schools have transitioned to a year-round school calendar with shorter breaks inserted throughout the year but the majority of schools in the U.S. still follow a summers-off schedule.
But why? There is no perilous economic reason that keeping children in school during the summer would be detrimental, and there is no medical reason that three consecutive months during the center of the calendar year are necessary for the healthy development of children. The reason the school year remains in a summers-off state is simple: it is easier than changing it. That mentality begins with teachers in the classroom and escalates to educational policymakers. Changing the ways things have always been, even if there is some pretty solid evidence that it would improve things, is too cumbersome - so why bother?
Why Teachers Don’t Want Year-Round Schooling
One of the first issues educators raise when the idea of year-round schooling arises is getting rid of summers off. Theoretically if nothing about the school calendar changed except the timing of the days off, teachers and administrators would still have the same amount of time off but it would be spread out over 12 months more evenly. Most educators will admit that they enjoy having at least three consecutive months each year to themselves, without the demands of being around children for seven hours every day and spending their evenings deep in grading or lesson planning. Many teachers take advantage of the time off to seek out other avenues of employment, to supplement their annual incomes. It’s doubtful that these teachers would be able to find the same level of employment during one or two week breaks scattered throughout the year, and it’s hard to say if those shorter spurts would allow enough time to for the mental decompression teachers need to perform their important jobs to the best of their abilities.
I believe that the benefit to teachers of year-round schooling would far outweigh these inconveniences, though. The pressure to have high-performing students is the bane of every teacher’s existence and research shows that too much time off from the school routine can actually undo the hard work teachers put in to their students. In fact, many teachers report that the first two to three months of each school year are spent teaching remedial skills from the previous grade - wasting even more of the time that should go into original learning.
What do you say teachers? Are your misgivings about year-round school based on personal reasons, or out of concern for your students?
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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 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.