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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Go Year-Round: A Push for True Summer School

Kids aren't helping plow the fields anymore, so why are we throwing away three months?
Milton Chen
Senior Fellow
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Summer vacation is a powerful anachronism that dates back to agrarian days, when farm families needed young people home during the summer months to replace the three R's with the two P's -- plantin' and pickin'. Today, now that fewer family farms remain and agricultural mechanization is standard, students need to be harvesting knowledge year-round.

In the Internet age, information is more accessible, and learning should happen during and after the school day -- nights, weekends, and summers. As dreamy as a long summer break may be, unless a kid is flipping burgers six days a week, it's education downtime we can no longer afford. More than ten years ago, the U.S. Department of Education organized a panel with an unusual title: the National Education Commission on Time and Learning. The panel issued a report that began, "Learning in America is a prisoner of time. For the past 150 years, American public schools have held time constant and let learning vary. Some bright, hardworking students do reasonably well. Everyone else -- from the typical student to the dropout -- runs into trouble."

The problem, according to the commission, is not just the length of the school year but also the lockstep "gridding" of the school day. The report emphasized that American schools have been operating under the tyranny of time; the length of the typical school period (45-50 minutes), the school day (8 a.m. to 3 p.m. or so), and the school year (180 days) is remarkably rigid across the nation. Secondary school students, especially, are required to march in assemblyline fashion throughout the day, where bells still ring to signal the closing of books and the flooding of hallways. The unchanging schedule prevents students from working in depth on projects and venturing into the community to gather data or talk to local experts. Teachers are also isolated in their classrooms by this rigid schedule, so they miss out on opportunities to learn from other teachers and share ideas.

Teaching may be the only profession where members have so little control over how their time is spent. Other industrial nations recognize that more time can equal more learning: Countries like Germany and Japan have longer school days and years, lengthening the focus on core academic subjects. Some schools in the United States, however, have started instituting more innovative approaches to school schedules.

In the year-round program at Fairview Elementary School, in Modesto, California, for example (see "Power to the People,"), students benefit from an emphasis on civic literacy and responsibility in addition to a regular academic program with about the same number of school days as traditional schools. And for the 2004-05 school year, the Alice Carlson Applied Learning Center, in Fort Worth, Texas, scheduled four blocks of about nine weeks each and fall and spring intersession workshops, allowing its K-5 students time for hands-on arts, science, and computer projects or sports in addition to language arts and math enrichment. (For more information on year-round schools, visit the Web site of the National Association for Year-Round Education.)

As Ernest Hemingway once said, with typical brevity, "Time is all we have." It's about time schools change how they use it.

Milton Chen is executive director of The George Lucas Educational Foundation.

Comments (33)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

kayla's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

you don't loose your knowledge in the summer

Katie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I say if the results prove that year round scheduling doesn't help than why should we have it. also many athletic sports and bands would have a problem because many may have games or competitions on scheduled breaks. Many sports and band have camps to practices drills and learn what they need to know for the fall .

Jesse Murillo's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can tell by the way you did not capitalize your first word of your sentence or by the way you did not end your sentence with a period that you did not have year round school. Also the way you spelled "Lose."

Reid Byrd's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation has nothing to do with whether or not someone went to year round school or how intelligent they are. There are many successful people who never finished school. Remember Albert Einstein?

Marianne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Under this article it says kids are not helping plow the fields anymore! I live in rural California in which student still help plow the fields as they do in states like Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma etc, in rural farm areas. We cannot put all children and each school district as the same everywhere. I think parents need to play a bigger part in a child's life and education, not put them into a school situation and less and less "family" time or interaction, our children are human beings, not machines to make them work, work, work, but to educate with a more human side of life and interact in the global market with human understanding. Learning and education takes places in many ways not just in a classrom.

Nikki Navta's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Not only is year-round schooling necessary, but we would also benefit from getting rid of grade levels. How can anyone think there is a level playing field when there are a bunch of youngsters starting one grade in September, with up to a year's difference in age? No wonder some kids are bored and some are challenged to the point of being discouraged. True leveled and differentiated instruction, delivered year round, would allow kids to progress as they are ready to handle the curriculum in all content areas. This would most likely require even heavier use of technology, and our testing would have to change. Why not?!

L Grant's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Unfortunately, as our education system has remained stagnant in America, other countries have progressed. Does preserving tradition warrant giving our students an inferior education and an automatic disadvantage in the real world?

Wes Walker's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dear Mr. Chen,
This is one of the most uninformed and misleading articles that I have ever seen. You would be well to observe that 'plantin' takes place in the Spring and 'pickin' takes place in the Fall. YRE adds "intersession" days to this time of year, so you see, year-round school is more of a farm calendar than the traditional calendar ever was. YRE shows no academic improvement, is more expensive to operate, and scrambles healthy family life through the schedule conflicts that this idiocy creates. Also, please don't use Mr. Lucas' name to support your deceptive edu-fads.

d's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

this article was very uniformative!!! all you talk about is about regular schooling and the dullness of the students day. Wouldnt that just about be the same if a student was to go to all year round school. your not really "persuading" your audience to agree on how going to a school that has an all year round program is such a great idea.If you wanted to persuade you shoudl've come up with more facts like it improves the knowledge of the students, better scores on tests than a student that goes to a regualar public school system.Doesnt effect economy and etc, but it actually does!! It does effect the economy, the gov. would have to pay alot more money for the schools to be able to operate especially during the summer with the air conditioning costs. It effects alot of bussinesses during the summer to like child care services summer jobs. Besides President Obama doesnt even have the money right noe to be paying for all year round schooling. Havent you watched the news like fox hes already in debt, and doesnt need to be wasting money on paying for students to have suckish opportunities to go to all year round schooling.I have a debate tomorrow on this that supports all year round schooling which i disagree on. You wasted 20 min of my time two iI give this 6 thumbs down!

Amanda Pickle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am doing a research project on year round school for school and this was perfect! thank you so much!!! :)

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