Thursday, October 25, 2012

Year round school

Another community in my state has voted to turn to year round school.  There are different names for it, but that's what it is.  Back in the day, the thought of year round school was widely denounced and villified (say 25 years ago).

As a parent, my experience has been the opposite.  Year round school has been great for our family.  The kids still have five to six weeks off in the summer.  They have two week fall, winter and spring breaks.  In the end, the total amount of time they spend in school is only a handful of weeks longer than a traditional calendar.

In the end, most families have parents who work full or part time throughout the year.  They do not get the same amount of vacation that their kids do.  The family is left scrambling for daycare, day camp or family members (or all three) to fill the void.  All three can be expensive depending on the arrangements you make.

So the days of summer vacation as days without schedules or purpose are gone for most families.

I know of people who hire nannies for the summer months so the kids can hang out at the pool.  And there are families who can afford to have one parent stay home full time even when the kids are in school.  But there are disadvantages to that as well - most notably the retirement funds for the full time stay at home parent.

Yes, children need free time and time to play.  They need exposure to the world outside of school.  It's clear that they need unstructured time as well to develop creatively. 

Some lawmakers (in my state) are stuck in this older reality.  They assume that one parent can stay home, even when kids are in school. They lament that kids no longer have free time like they did. Which is fine - but it's ignoring the experience of most parents and families.  Most notably, I've found this with my experience on the parent teacher association for the school.  Most parents are working two jobs to pay the rent; they're not able to go to fundraising activities.  And it's unrealistic to expect them to do so.

So the reality is, kids who aren't in school will probably be in some sort of daycare/day camp.  How different is school from day camp anyway?  Obviously most day camps are more activity/fun based than traditional school.  Day camp doesn't usually have licensed teachers. 

But to my mind, the only downsides to a longer school year are that teachers have to work more days and it may cost the state more.  Day camp and school are much more alike than school and unstructured summer vacation days.

In Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, he shares statistics that most upper and middle class children do not lose as much of their learning through the summer break.  But for some families, particularly lower income families, the kids lose a great deal through the long summer months.  So it seems to me, if we want to give those kids the best chance to succeed, and help support families - lengthening the school year is a great way to do it. 

Originally, the summer break was simply to allow farm kids to help with the farm during planting and harvest season.  Most Americans live in urban locations now, not on farms.  So unstructured play was always a luxury.

Unfortunately, it seems to take forever for our educational system to adapt best practices/research based innovations.  They were discussing early childhood education in the 1970s.  Only now are both political parties beginning to recognize the wisdom of working with children earlier.  Sadly, other countries have been engaged with both early childhood education and longer school years for years. 


Andrew said...

Year round school does not get to claim the title of best practices... it is a mixed bag.

Most districts try it for ten years then drop it. Our district just lost its last two.

The biggest hindrance I see is that districts tend to merely move the elementary schools to it, but leave off the middle and high schools. So scheduling becomes a nightmare, not only for the districts, but for families. My elementary son and middle school daughter were "off" at completely different times... it was horrible.

The only reason they will not move the middle and high school schedules to a year round is sports... and we know in the states, sports (not education) sets the calendar.

As a parent, I have no desire for a longer school year or school day. My children have plenty of involvements that enrich their lives educationally. More school would steal from that.

Freckle Face Girl said...

I know there are some advantages to year around school, but I definitely don't want my kids in it. Texas is really strict about days off. The kids have a total of 8 for the year. Any little vacation and a few sick days & the kids are on the bad list. A few more days off & the parents end up in court. I'd rather have them out of school for a more flexible summer.

I would probably feel differently if I didn't work from home.