Wise up to year-round schooling


Winter break is almost upon us, and a reprieve from the semester is always welcome. One could only dream of six months from now when students across the country are free to sunbathe, road trip with friends or get a summer job for a few extra dollars. There are pockets across the country, however, where summer break as we know it does not happen.

Some schools break up the summer vacation into more bite-sized chunks throughout the year, while others work on a track system. A multiple track year-round education has groups of students attending school at different times with different vacations.

Most students would balk at the idea at first. But do we still learn in one-room schoolhouses? Do most students still work on their parent's farm during the summer harvest and planting months? If the rest of the education system has advanced since public schooling became mandatory, it seems that the school schedule should evolve along with it.

Every student who ever took a math or foreign language class knows how the summer months can mysteriously zap your memory of verb conjugations and math equations. It takes away from teaching time in September to have those weeks devoted to "review" material. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who supports the change in schedule, cites material retention as one of her major arguments for reworking the standard school year.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida used an extended-day, extended-year program from fall 2004 through spring 2008. The program shifted 39 public elementary, middle and high schools to a year-round, extended-day schedule. After 2008, the school decided to rescind the decision because there was no difference between the target schools and those in the control group.

The research on if year-round schooling makes for better grades has been mixed. Most studies show no difference between regularly scheduled schools and non-traditional. But I think there are many advantages to this system that may not show up in test scores. Students who are struggling with math or reading will not need to wait for summer school any longer to seek extra help.

Miami-Dade County School Board Vice-Chairman Marta Perez said the most determining factor of whether a student will be successful in schools is the parents and the community and how much involvement they have when they leave us, not when they are in schools. For the students that have such outside encouragement, extra class time may not be necessary. But for the many students who are not as lucky, having more time with teachers would provide time to focus on weaker subjects.

My high school, built in the 1920s, had more and more students enrolling every year, in the already densely populated state. If a multitrack schedule was used, some students would be in school while others were on vacation and the overcrowded classrooms and hallways would be eliminated. With less students bustling about come much less discipline problems and a safer learning environment. This would also save the town large amounts of money, since they had to buy a building close by to move offices to make room for more students.

There are certainly arguments to be made against this change, but with any major overhaul it will take time to perfect. Some schools do not have air conditioning so the schools with the hottest months have to start and end earlier to avoid the hottest parts of the day. Since the maintenance team does not have three months to clean and fix, some teachers have complained the school was dirty and needed some repairs. A teacher could also finish a track and then have to start up again very soon with little time to prepare new lessons for a new grade. These are all tangential problems that, with time and effort, could be solved.

Time and effort could also bring true educational benefits. It will take a lot to work the kinks out of such a new idea, and we can take a few hints from those that have been at it for a long time, our international friends.

The school year runs 243 days in Japan, up to 240 in Germany, 220 in South Korea and 216 in Israel. By the time Japanese teens have completed 12th grade, they would have spent the equivalent of at least three more years in school than their U.S. counterparts, according to Healthline.com. When our economy moved from agrarian to industrial to information, our school system would have been wise to move with it.

Joanna Cirillo is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media studies. Her column "So Fresh So Green" runs on alternate Fridays.


Joanna Cirillo

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