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Opening Arguments

School's in forever?

The Indianapolis Public Schools system is toying with the idea of year-round school:

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White has informally proposed year-round school as a way to reduce "summer learning loss." But its merits have long been a source of debate. And it's an idea that, while tried elsewhere, is not common in Indiana and not always popular with parents or kids.

White has yet to go public with a plan, but in an informal meeting with School Board members earlier this summer, he proposed two options for a year-round calendar.

Both options involve nine-week quarters.

One option would have two-week breaks between each of the quarters, with an eight-week summer vacation; under the other, quarterly breaks would be three weeks, and summer vacation five weeks. Under either, students still would spend the required 180 days in class.

I've always been a supporter of the year-round concept. There's no particular reason to keep the 9-months-with-the-summer-off system that dates back to our agrarian past. If students forget too much during the long summer break, it seems reasonable and logical to give them more but shorter breaks. Even though research so far doesn't show the expected benefits of year-round school, if it doesn't hurt anybody and could help a few students, why not try it?

But what if giving students more breaks just gives them more opportunities to forget things? One researcher quoted in the story was enthusiastic about about year-round school until she saw it in action:

According to Bruno, children would still forget their lessons, even after the quarterly breaks, so teachers would have to spend time on review. She said students also didn't seem to be as excited to return to school after the shorter summers.

If that's true, that makes the two-weeks-between-quarters option, with eight weeks off in summer, seem like the worst idea of all. And consider the part about students not seeming to return to school as excited as they once were. If students lose knowledge during the summer, at least they tend back to school eager to learn. What if we end up with a system in which they forget things during the breaks and aren't happy to go back and relearn it?

Maybe the current system is so ingrained in our culture that forcing people to give it up could cause more harm than good. If that is the case, my sentiment should be turned around to say: If it's not going to be any better than what we have, why risk it?


Mon, 09/13/2010 - 9:15am

I saw mention of an interesting study that showed teens perform much better in school if you start it later in the day; something about their circadian rhythms. See: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/teens-health/CC00019.

Even if this is scientifically accurate, I don't suppose we'll ever do anything about it, since it feels like by doing so, we're giving in to laziness; facts be damned.

Bob G.
Mon, 09/13/2010 - 9:23am

I know they've done year-round school in VA for a long time, and most of those districts have some of the highest achievement rates across the nation.

(yeah, it does play hell w/ family vacation scehdules, but they seem to have adapted well enough there.)

Then again, there is a difference between teens in Indiana and teens who live in and around the Beltway near D.C.
It could be a real toss-up here.