The dawn of the 20th century ushered in a traditional school calendar based on agricultural concerns in which 85 percent of Americans depended on some type of farming for their livelihood. Kids were needed for spring planting and fall harvesting, which warranted a long summer break. As life has evolved from agriculture to urbanization, the question of modifying the traditional school calendar to better meet the needs of 21st-century life is worth evaluating.
The traditional school year calendar consists of a nine-month in-session school year, complemented by a three-month summer vacation. Year-round calendars stretch learning over a 12-month period with frequent vacations throughout the year. In both calendars, all students and staff are in school at the same time. Some schools also adopt a multi-track system especially if overcrowding is an issue. In this scenario, students and teachers are divided into four or five schedules where some track participants are on vacation while others are attending classes.
Many pre-K through 12th-grade schools are initiating Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics programs, directly resulting from an increasingly competitive international market. According to the National Governor's Association Center for Best Practices, “Improving high school graduation rates and ensuring that all students are ready for college and the workforce is vital to states' ability to compete in the global economy.” Coupled with standardized testing, it's becoming apparent that the more consistent time a student spends in school, the better information retention rate. According to the California Department of Education, “Student achievement scores improve when those students are attending year-round schools.” Traditionalists will argue that inconclusive evidence exists in regards to student achievement, and America will continue to compete whether schooling is year-round or not.
One of the biggest objections to year-round schooling may be expenses vs. school funding. Around-the-clock building costs increase due to air conditioning rates, maintenance issues, school bus expenses and year-round wear and tear on school property. However school resources such as library materials, computers, textbooks and athletic equipment are better utilized year-round, adding more bang for the buck.
One of the questions to ask before adopting a year-round school calendar may be "Do modern family dynamics warrant it?" With many parents working outside the home, after-school programs and summer day camps alleviate much of the strain of required daycare. While traditionalists may argue there are limited daycare options available in a year-round calendar, past history indicates these programs can be altered according to the needs of both schools and families. Some proponents of long summer breaks look forward to less structured family leisure time where extended travel plans can be realized. Year-round advocates argue travelling during off-peak times makes family vacations more enjoyable and less stressful. One of the main advantages to retaining a traditional calendar may simply be that summer vacation allows older students a chance to gain valuable work experience in a summer job.
Anne Reynolds is a writer who has worked for the U.S. government, the public school system and as a public library specialist. She began writing in 1990 and has contributed articles to various online publications.