The problem with alternative school calendars
December 11, 2010
To be clear, the Board of Education is not proposing to lengthen our school year as citizen Philip Vergeler sang the praises of in yesterday’s letters (“It’s all academic,” Dec. 8, 2010, The Aspen Times). Discussions are to simply break up the existing calendar. My mother taught under a similar alternative calendar. Her complaints are echoed by the findings of other districts across the nation as reported in a clearinghouse for educators, k12academics.com:
Year-round schools show little to no academic improvement due to calendar change.
Students in year-round schools have more opportunities to forget what they learned due to the added and extended breaks throughout the year.
Teachers’ ability to attend college classes in the summer is compromised due to a year-round calendar.
Teachers have more problems with children staying focused before a break, and upon return due to the more frequent breaks throughout the year.
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Student burnout can increase due to the reduction in down time during the summer.
Alternative school calendars can cause family and community disintegration. This occurs when siblings/neighbors are on different tracks. Further disintegration is seen when extended family and church members are on different tracks, or in the case of single-tracking, different inter sessions. (Remember we are not just the Aspen School District; we are the Roaring Fork Valley Community)
Summer school, where classes can be taken for credit, are replaced with inter sessions throughout the year, for no credit. (Important for Aspen High IB students needing calculus)
Curriculum and materials for the normal school year are approved by the board, but curriculum and materials for inter sessions are not.
Inter sessions tend to turn into play time as inter session content turns into fluff classes taught by community volunteers with no background check required.
The California Teachers Association, Comparison of the Lowest Decile Schools to the Highest Decile Schools Under the Academic Performance Index (2001) found:
• Fifty-eight percent of elementary schools scoring in the lowest decile on achievement tests were year-round schools compared to just 3 percent of the highest decile schools
• Thirty-eight percent of middle schools scoring in the lowest decile were year-round schools compared to just 1 percent of the highest decile schools
• Thirty-four percent of high schools in the lowest decile were in year-round schools while no year round schools were in the highest decile
While no alternative calendar schools were in the highest decile is a pretty strong statement for kids competing for college entrance.
Balanced calendars actually increase summer slide. The Sylvan Learning Center, an institutional tutoring organization, declares: “Loss of content retention begins within 24 to 48 hours of learning unless the new information is reinforced or applied immediately. After a month without reinforcement, approximately 80 percent of what a student has recently learned can be lost.” A proposed seven-week summer does not address the 80 percent problem. The proposed three added two-week breaks aggravate content retention.
Perhaps better use of existing school days/calendar by eliminating early release every Wednesday in primary grades and using classes such as Base Camp/Freshman Seminar shows more promise for improvement.