You can practically hear kids groaning in low murmurs across the countryside at the mere mention of year-round education. In increasing trends, schools are looking to year-round school schedules for various reasons. The debate, however, still rages over the effectiveness of these proposed changes to the typical and long-standing education schedules where kids skip and dance their ways out of school buildings after Memorial Day to only gleefully return near Labor Day. Year-round school schedules have much to offer, and much of which to be wary.
Year-Round School vs. Multi-Tracking
In order to better understand the benefits and drawbacks of changes to the traditional education models in the United States, it is valuable to understand two of the basic concepts that are being discussed at PTA and school board meetings all over the nation: true year-round schedules and multi-tracking.
What is a Year-Round School Schedule?
Districts debate that very concept, but the overall consensus is that year-round school means that children have a more regular pattern of on and off school days. In fact, many kids in what are known as year-round schedules attend the same number of days of classes as their peers in traditionally scheduled schools.
Often year-round schedules mean that students and teachers have more scheduled vacation breaks that occur for shorter durations, and they are more evenly spaced throughout the school year. Research as to the benefits and drawbacks to this type of schedule are conflicting. Much of the current information suggests that there are certain types of students who do better with this type of schedule.
- Students for whom English is a second language – it appears that ESL students often lack consistent exposure to the English language if they have extended summer breaks.
- Students in low-income households and in poorer neighborhoods – research also shows that summer break for these students is less likely to be filled with activities of educational and social value.
- Students who struggle with learning disabilities or just retention of knowledge – summer break might be just too long for them to be able to recall necessary information, and they have to expend extra energy relearning facts each fall.
What is a Multi-Track School Schedule?
Many people assume that if schools are in session year-round that they qualify as year-round school schedules. However, with multi-tracking the schools divide overall grades into different tracks, perhaps two or three. Each track has its own schedule of on and off weeks throughout the year, so that students are almost always occupying building space, but not all students attend school at the same time. Track A for 5th grade might have classes for the first 3 weeks beginning September 1st, and then Track B for 5th grade begins class the 3rd week in November while Track A has a 3 week break. The tracks continue rotating like this on a year-round basis.
School districts often turn to multi-tracking because:
- Schools can enroll more students per building because not all of the students are in the building at the same time.
- Money can be saved because less building space is required for teaching the same number of students.
- Class sizes can be reduced.
- Teachers can experience less burnout because they have more frequent breaks.
- Shorter breaks (getting rid of one long summer break) help some students retain more information.
However, not all school districts, students, and families find rewards in the multi-tracking system.
- Some districts do not experience money saving benefits because they have increased administrative or transportation-related expenses.
- Teachers and students can have a more difficult time feeling “at home” in their classrooms because their classrooms are always shared and rotated, and while they are on break, are being utilized by a different class.
- There is no major summer break that would traditionally allow maintenance projects to be completed on school buildings and grounds.
- There can be extra work – twice or thrice the days for school pictures, conferences, mandatory testing, and more.
- Athletes and students in certain extracurricular activities need to be placed on the same tracks. This reduces classroom diversity and creates pods of like-minded and like-action-oriented students.
- Sometimes students from different families or neighborhoods are on different tracks, making things like child-care and even family vacations more challenging.
Which Option is Best?
Scheduling school year-round could have great benefits for certain groups of students. The days when kids spent summer vacation exploring, camping, building forts, and engaged in their communities are being somewhat replaced by students who veg out in front of video games, are left home alone or sent to daycares that are intended for much younger children, and generally disengaged from enrichment activities. Groups like Summer Matters want kids to still have the opportunity to spend more quality time with their families, opportunities for activities that only summer can bring, and even contribute to vacation-economies. These ideas are all great and in some neighborhoods and communities a reality. However, year-round school options are beneficial to some students as the dynamics of families change.
In a perfect world, kids would get to spend their summers reading at the beach, playing in the woods, swimming on lazy afternoons, participaing in their communities, exploring new ideas, and having adventures. As a homeschool mom we officially “begin” school in the fall and take a “summer vacation” beginning in May, but the kids often learn even more over the summe months. They participate in 4-H, have jobs, fish, lead story time in the community, swim, read, build robots, make inventions, and drip ice cream on the sidewalk. Summer offers too many options for kids outside of desks and classrooms. We just have to make sure that as communities we are helping kids to take advantage of these adventures – ice cream drips and all.