The idea of year-round education is not new. Its values and vices have been debated for years. Now the Northfield school district is eyeing a year-round calendar. When done correctly, year-round education can improve student achievement by decreasing the amount of time a student spends away from school during the summer, thus decreasing the amount students forget from year to year.
This is contradictory to the current trend among Minnesota school districts to consider or implement four-day school weeks. While these students spend more time each day in school so the amount of school time doesn’t diminish, students and faculty have either Monday or Friday off. While educators find no decrease in student achievement, it does nothing to improve it either. The four-day week is only done to save money.
The year-round calendar can improve achievement. According to the Northfield News, district leaders are considering a calendar with four sections of 45-days of class followed by breaks lasting anywhere from three to five weeks. Benefits include the elimination of a “summer learning loss.” Struggling students would be offered extra help while enrichment for higher achievers would also be available during the breaks. The district has already approved the 2010-11 school calendar and isn’t ready to propose switching schedules, but discussions about making the change in 2011-2012 are ongoing.
However, helping the student doesn’t stop with merely changing the calendar. In a 2006 report, Hillary Pennington, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, wrote that the year-round calendar “is not in and of itself a silver bullet. Successful schools accompany extended learning time by other inter-related practices including a school culture focused on preparing students for life after high school; a high expectations/high level academic core; and extra support to keep students on track with college-preparatory requirements. They design extended learning opportunities to allow a balance between academics and the kinds of co-curricular or extracurricular activities that are so important to students’ broader development. Successful schools also pay explicit attention to transitions – from middle school to high school and from high school to the world beyond – building relationships and structures that extend across these transitions.”
We would hope that soon, school districts will find themselves not in a position where insufficient financial support from the state encourages them to use the non-productive four-day school week, but in a position in which districts will make bold decisions that benefit all Minnesota students based on relevant research and fiscal responsibility.