Will longer school year help or hurt US students?

Did your kids moan that winter break was way too short as you got them ready for the first day back in school? They might get their wish of more holiday time off under proposals catching on around the country to lengthen the school year.
Associated Press
Jan 15, 2013

But there's a catch: a much shorter summer vacation.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a chief proponent of the longer school year, says American students have fallen behind the world academically.

"Whether educators have more time to enrich instruction or students have more time to learn how to play an instrument and write computer code, adding meaningful in-school hours is a critical investment that better prepares children to be successful in the 21st century," he said in December when five states announced they would add at least 300 hours to the academic calendar in some schools beginning this year.

The three-year pilot project will affect about 20,000 students in 40 schools in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee.

Proponents argue that too much knowledge is lost while American kids wile away the summer months apart from their lessons. The National Summer Learning Association cites decades of research that shows students' test scores are higher in the same subjects at the beginning of the summer than at the end.

"The research is very clear about that," said Charles Ballinger, executive director emeritus of the National Association for Year-Round School in San Diego. "The only ones who don't lose are the upper 10 to 15 percent of the student body. Those tend to be gifted, college-bound, they're natural learners who will learn wherever they are."

Supporters also say a longer school year would give poor children more access to school-provided healthy meals.

Yet the movement has plenty of detractors — so many that Ballinger sometimes feels like the Grinch trying to steal Christmas.

"I had a parent at one meeting say, 'I want my child to lie on his back in the grass watching the clouds in the sky during the day and the moon and stars at night,'" Ballinger recalled. "I thought, 'Oh, my. Most kids do that for two, three, maybe four days, then say, 'What's next?''"

But opponents aren't simply dreamy romantics.

Besides the outdoor opportunities for pent up youngsters, they say families already are beholden to the school calendar for three seasons out of four. Summer breaks, they say, are needed to provide an academic respite for students' overwrought minds, and to provide time with family and the flexibility to travel and study favorite subjects in more depth. They note that advocates of year-round school cannot point to any evidence that it brings appreciable academic benefits.

"I do believe that if children have not mastered a subject that, within a week, personally, I see a slide in my own child," said Tina Bruno, executive director of the Coalition for a Traditional School Calendar. "That's where the idea of parental involvement and parental responsibility in education comes in, because our children cannot and should not be in school seven days a week, 365 days a year."

Bruno is part of a "Save Our Summers" alliance of parents, grandparents, educational professionals and some summer-time recreation providers fighting year-round school. Local chapters carry names such as Georgians Need Summers, Texans for a Traditional School Year and Save Alabama Summers.

Camps, hotel operators and other summer-specific industries raise red flags about the potential economic effect.

The debate has divided parents and educators.

School days shorter than work days and summer breaks that extend to as many as 12 weeks in some areas run up against increasing political pressure from working households — 30 percent of which are headed by women. These families must fill the gaps with afterschool programs, day care, babysitters and camps.

"Particularly where there are single parents or where both parents are working, they prefer to provide care for three weeks at a time rather than three months at a time," Ballinger said.

The National Center on Time & Learning has estimated that about 1,000 districts have adopted longer school days or years.

Some places that have tried the year-round calendar, including Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and parts of California, have returned to the traditional approach. Strapped budgets and parental dissatisfaction were among reasons.

School years are extended based on three basic models:

—stretching the traditional 180 days of school across the whole calendar year by lengthening spring and winter breaks and shortening the one in the summer.

—adding 20 to 30 actual days of instruction to the 180-day calendar.

—dividing students and staff into groups, typically four, and rotating three through at a time, with one on vacation, throughout the calendar year.

At the heart of the debate is nothing less than the ability of America's workforce to compete globally.

The U.S. remains in the top dozen or so countries in all tested subjects. But even where U.S. student scores have improved, many other nations have improved much faster, leaving American students far behind peers in Asia and Europe.

Still, data are far from clear that more hours behind a desk can help.

A Center for Public Education review found that students in India and China — countries Duncan has pointed to as giving children more classroom time than the U.S. — don't actually spend more time in school than American kids, when disparate data are converted to apples-to-apples comparisons.

The center, an initiative of the National School Boards Association, found 42 U.S. states require more than 800 instructional hours a year for their youngest students, and that's more than India does.

Opponents of extended school point out that states such as Minnesota and Massachusetts steadily shine on standardized achievement tests while preserving their summer break with a post-Labor Day school start.

"It makes sense that more time is going to equate to more learning, but then you have to equate that to more professional development for teachers — will that get more bang for the buck?" said Patte Barth, the center's director. "I look at it, and teachers and instruction are still the most important factor more so than time."

The center's study also found that some nations that outperform the U.S. academically, such as Finland, require less school.

Many schools are experimenting with the less controversial, less costly interim step of lengthening the school day instead of adding days to the school year.

Chicago's public schools extended the school day from 5 hours and 45 minutes to 7 hours last year after a heated offensive by unionized teachers and some parents. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff to Duncan's boss, President Barack Obama, initially pushed an even longer school day — a major sticking point in this year's seven-day teachers' strike. He and other proponents argued that having the shortest school day among the nation's 50 largest districts and one of the shortest school years had put Chicago's children at a competitive disadvantage.

Wendy Katten, executive director of Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education, said opponents held back a push for a 7.5-hour school day, and got an extra staff person assigned to each school to handle the additional hour and 15 minutes of school time.

In San Diego, year-round school has been a reality since the 1970s.

District spokesman Jack Brandais said the concept was initially intended to relieve crowding, not improve performance test scores. The student body and staff were divided into four groups, with three attending school at any given time.

Through decades of fine-tuning, Brandais said the district now runs both traditional and year-round tracks simultaneously.

A 2007 study by Ohio State University sociologist Paul von Hippel found virtually no difference in the academic gains of students who followed a traditional nine-month school calendar and those educated the same number of days spread across the entire year.

Amid budget cuts and teacher layoffs, San Diego has cut five instructional days from both year-round and traditional schedules since last year.




My daughter-in-law teaches in a year round school in Colorado and she likes it. She is off a couple of weeks every two or three months. It gives both the students and the teachers a break and they can go back to school refreshed. It is an idea that should at least be considered, not rejected out of hand.


QUALITY...no quantity. Most schools today ONLY teach what is on the required standardized tests. I am saddened and SHOCKED at some of the things my kids are and are not taught. To me this is nothing more than a babysitter. If parents spent as much time reading, studying and teaching their children as much as they drive to soccer, cheer, football, softball, etc the kids would NOT need EXTRA schooling.


Have to teach them usefull things!


Wait for the ad to end.


gang busters!!!

LOL !!!


BW1, you are forgetting that children are not miniature adults. You sound as if you have no understanding of human development. Teaching children is very different than teaching adults. With adults you can stand at teh front of the classroom, give lectures and directions and expect them to learn. And adults can adapt to that, although they may be bored out of their minds. That approach does not work with children.


The Socratic method of teaching as has been used for thousands of yrs. is largely dead.

"We have a 19th-century classroom model in the 21st century." - Joel Klein


H*ll, after I learned how to read, most teachers were egotistical pains in the *ss.

BF Skinner had the concept of the "teaching machine" back in the 1950s.

Many U.S. school systems now are more about keeping the education bureaucracy employed with wages and rich benefits, not about new and better ways to teach.

BW1's picture

@informed: That approach does not work with children.

Except that we have evidence that it DOES in the millions of kids who learn quite well in such environments, right alongside the ones who fail. The independent variable is the parents. Some discipline their children to have self control and realize life is not a neverending stream of amusement, while others plant their kids in front of an electronic window into a fantasy world of endless stimulation and gratification.

You might also try peddling that new age indulgence approach to all the countries that practice what I'm advocating whose kids are crushing ours in academic achievement.

Adults are not magically infused with the ability to adapt and control themselves by a fairy godmother on the eve of their 18th birthday; they spend their childhood learning adaptation by practicing it in order to meet the expectations placed upon them.

Many of society's problems stem from this belief that children need a separate reality of their own. This has led to the development of a youth culture which should not exist, because the role of the child is to assimilate the adult culture, not immerse in an immature and often degenerate culture of their own.


BW1, you don't know seem to know of which you speak. One of the most successful education systems is in Finland, and trust me, they don't have teachers standing at the front of classrooms monotonously lecturing to children. Who said anything about overindulgence? Understanding how children learn and engaging them in the learning process id essential to good teaching.
You are correct, however, in that the most important variable are the parents and home life children have.


The big question is: when our governor is cutting funding to education at the state level, forcing local districts to carry more of the cost, how exactly will it be possible to implement a longer school year, given the resultant increase in teacher/staff salaries for working a longer school year.

I wouldn't expect teachers (or any profession) to agree to more time on the job without an increased salary. Would a factory worker agree to an additional 4 weeks of work for no pay? This is especially a difficult thing to expect at a time when teacher's retirement has been pushed back 5+ years, they have been asked to contribute more to their retirement, only to receive less benefits upon retirement.

The truth is (for anyone who has taken a look at the Want Ads in any large newspaper lately) that there are plenty of jobs in America for which employers are unable to find qualified candidates. If we want to fix that problem, it has to start with Republicans being willing to pay more taxes to support the things that we all know are important.

I know that teachers are the popular whipping boy for everything that is wrong in education, especially with people who have never taught and don't know otherwise. It's funny how people would never think that they know more about medicine than a physician or more about finance than a financial planner, but think that they know more about education than a teaching professional. The irony of course, is that many display their lack of education while doing so.

From what I've seen (I'm a retired teacher and my wife is also a teacher), the weakest part of the chain most often are students who don't put in any effort, and parents who place little value on education. If a kid doesn't try and a parent doesn't care, what should we expect the results to be? A lot of kids are preparing themselves for a life of "Would you like fries with that". Not that those jobs are bad, but they don't exactly help us compete with other countries does it? Teachers are often the only people who DO care, and having been there, it's discouraging to realize that teachers often care more about kids than their own parents do...


Makes one wonder why you even bothered, huh? So many unresponsive students AND parents! Ungrateful sots! Making teachers look bad.

And everyone understands that a bad rap can seem to make a career unrewarding. The salary, benefits, time off are barely worth it! I do know that if you made the difference in just ONE child's life it WAS worth it!

Show of Hands: How many of you former public school students think 50% of the teachers you had in school had any business around children?

Not that I think it's easy to find enough good people to fill any occupation. I'd just feel a little better if there wasn't so much sanctimony in some professions.


Coasterfan, Bingo!



The sad reality is you are correct. Some teacher care about their students more than their parents. This problem is growing not contracting.

The only way to change this problem is to sterilize the breeders and take their children and put them with adults who care. Everyone can have an "oops". Three or four kids with three or four sperm donors is not an "oops".

Sounds harsh? You betcha. This is not a color issue. This is not a poverty issue. It's a personal responsibility issue. Irresponsible birthing machines and sperm donors have been breeding new generations of children like themselves.

It's a parent's responsibility to love, support and teach their children. We have forgotten this concept over the last few generations. There is no end in sight.

Don S

When I went to school, classes started at 8am and let out at 3pm. Do the math. Class time was subject classes and study halls. Study halls were a place where a student could get added help with their studies.(one on one help) Back then, there were vocational classes to prepare students for the workforce, if they chose not to go to college. The draft into the military prepared young men for the workforce and gave them benefits to go to college. There are none of these for todays students out of high school. Not every student will go to a 4yr college.


Don S - I'm confused. High school kids are in school from 7:30 until 2:30, we have a vocation school option and the military still provides benefits to go to college. What are you saying has changed?


Ohio's young people benefit greatly by a wide variety of summer opportunities to experience de-rationalized learning sessions, many culminating in 4-H displays at the county fair. Talk of lenghthening the school year for government indoctrination centers threatens to deprive children of these long-valuable learning experiences.

One only has to drive down to Shiloh to see firsthand what limiting education to 8 years does for Old Order Mennonites, who farm with the latest computerized techniques and computerised farm equipment, despite religious prohibitions on personally driving cars (which they hurdle by hiring drivers). When something breaks, they fix it themselves. Learning how fix things and operate computers was not taught at the school house but in the classroom of real life. Their use of the one-room schoolhouse spares children the delimiting effects of artificial age-based grouping of children as is routinely done in government schools. No peer pressure and an appreciation for the wisdom of their elders.

Extending a child's 13-year sentence of government schooling to additionally deprive him or her of summer 4-H and other learning opportunities will serve only to make more obedient tax-payers rather than creative entrepeneurs. We would do well to heed our Founding Fathers and remember that "government, like fire," is a dangerous servant that would become our master. Keep government out of Summer! See www.SepSchool.org for more info.


Here we go using the kids and school system as guinea pigs again. If this doesn't work-next year we will try something different


Being a kid nowadays must be a challedge. Hey Maggdi we all knew some crap teachers. We all knew some crap bosses. We all knew some crap people. I'm glad some of the teachers cared enough to make a real difference. Many here (if they are honest) recall the teachers that made their classes a joy to be in. The same applies to life regardless of your station. Some in life try their best. That is what really matters most.