So far, cons of year-round school are clearer than pros

Apr. 27, 2013 @ 04:30 AM

When I wrote a column last fall lamenting the push for a longer school year, I had no idea the movement would soon be advancing to Rutherford County. But here it is just eight months later … and both Forest City-Dunbar and Spindale Elementary are now giving serious consideration to a year-round school calendar.

You can imagine my trepidation when I attended Spindale Elementary’s recent parent forum about the proposed switch. Frankly, I was prepared to thoroughly hate the new “Flex Rotation” schedule.

But truth be told, once I got a look at it I couldn’t help but think it might go a long way in warding off burnout among students and teachers. It’s still the same number of school days, but students attend school throughout the year with three-week breaks after every nine or so weeks. There’s also a summer break that lasts a little over four weeks.

Really, I can’t argue with more frequent breaks. With learning conducted at such a fast pace these days, it’s doubtless needed. However, this wasn’t cited as one of the benefits.

Instead, the list of “pros” included (and I’m quoting almost verbatim): reduced gaps in instructional time, less time needed for review, increased achievement, and more opportunities for remediation and enrichment.

For a little more context on what is meant by “enrichment,” it’s thought that year-round school is a benefit for disadvantaged students who may have fewer opportunities over the summer, such as attending summer camp and the like, than other students.

As acknowledged in the “Challenges” section of the handout, the above claimed benefits aren’t backed by statistically conclusive research.

It was also acknowledged that parents and faculty with children attending different schools would find juggling the conflicting schedules a real hardship. And numerous parents at the forum raised this exact concern.

There’s no way around it — if Spindale Elementary joins the Flex Rotation Schedule pilot program, these families will be seriously inconvenienced, not to mention very limited in when they can take the entire family on a summer vacation.

I asked Spindale Elementary Principal Angel King if there was a significant challenge or problem at Spindale Elementary that might justify such a change. She said that there was definitely room for improvement; school grade level performance was at about 67 percent.

Reading and vocabulary skills seem to be mostly responsible for pulling the average down. Math performance is considerably higher at around 82 percent.

I would agree those numbers call for action. But I’m just not convinced that should include adopting a new schedule. This would infer the current schedule is the problem, and I don’t believe it is.

There’s also the matter of requiring the 67 percent of students who are adequately performing at grade level to make a major change for the 37 percent who are not.

Yes, 37 percent is a concerning number. Very concerning. But that doesn’t change the reality that a decided majority of students are doing fine under the current schedule. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to tailor a solution specific to those who aren’t; that is, if the current schedule is what’s hindering them?

Toward the end of the forum, parents were asked if they were up for the challenge of a new change and moving beyond their comfort zone.

I might be, if I thought the benefits of doing so were worth it. But I left the forum uncertain if the benefits even existed.

And so I have a challenge of my own to pose to the politicians and national thought leaders who are at the forefront of the more-time-in-school movement. Would they be willing to question their assumption that school is the primary means to solve the most pressing problems for our children?

For some time now, the trend has been to add more hours and rigorous testing to the school year, not less. Yet it never seems to be enough. As a teacher friend of mine recently told me, “Kids are getting schooled to death. And teachers are getting professionally developed to death.”

I believe her.

What I don’t believe is that the average American child’s home life — or that of the average Rutherford County child — is really so inadequate for mental development that we must assure the child is at school every month of the year.

But if it is, we have problems on our hands that will require a lot more than a calendar change to solve.

 

Stephanie Janard is a mother and full-time copywriter. She lives in Spindale. To reach Stephanie, email sjanard@msn.com