Roger Marolt: Roger This
December 2, 2010
What’s the problem? This should be the first question answered as Aspen School District tackles the issue of whether to alter the school calendar to what amounts to a year-round slate of classes for our kids. Shrink summer vacation to just six weeks, insert two-week breaks into the spring and fall offseasons, have a two-week Christmas break followed by two weeks of school for finals followed by another two-week break in the dead of winter – to address what problem?For what it’s worth, I don’t see one. Our schools are at the top of the heap.Then why are we considering this radical change?The pat answer? To improve student achievement, of course! Really? In what ways? Ways? Oh, you mean you don’t know? It’s just in one way. I thought everybody knew – It’s the measure that drives all decisions concerning kids anymore. It’s the only gauge that anybody cares about. It’s the myopia of education focus groups. It’s the all-knowing, all-telling Standardized Test Score (STS)!Yes, the STS has hijacked the national debate about how to operate schools. It is redirecting the discussion here in Aspen. If our children’s welfare is truly at stake, we might be well served by considering other measures of success, too: Are our children happy? Are they well-rounded? Are they creative? Are they burdened by stress? Are we setting them up to be content and productive adults who contribute meaningfully to the betterment of mankind? But, of course these are difficult things to measure, so we look at test scores. Does it mean that we should ignore other objectives, though? OK, that’s too much to contemplate over coffee and this column. We’ve created a game so let’s play it, full tilt: By exactly how much can we increase our children’s STSs by adopting a year-round school calendar? The truth is: probably not much, if any.If you ask the National Association for Year-Round Education (NAYRE) (a possibly biased source?), they will cite studies by Winters (1994) and Six (1993), which dubiously support altering the school schedule to include all months of the year. Six, referring to the Chula Vista (1990) study on the subject, concludes, “The results favored year-round education,” while reluctantly conceding that, “the mean scores of the traditional calendar schools were generally higher than those of year-round schools.” Huh? Go figure.If you ask almost anyone else who has studied the matter, you will get a less conflicted answer. Quinlan (1987), Carrriedo (1989), Kreitzer/Glass (1990), Zykowski (1991), Harp (1993) and Campbell (1994) all basically conclude that there is no significantly measurable difference in achievement between students in year-round and traditional schools.But, even if this isn’t convincing enough and you want to handpick results that support a year-round school calendar, what is critically important to take heed of is that the findings are still not universal for all schools examined in even the most favorable studies available. In other words, every regarded study shows that year-round schools calendars appear to work in some cases while failing in others. For example, in Alcorn, R.D. (Thrust for Educational Leadership, vol. 21, no. 6; April 1992), 27 schools in California were studied regarding year-round and traditional calendars. The results showed that 17 schools benefited from a change to year-round schooling, while 10 did not. Since 63 percent of the year-round schools showed improvement, proponents hailed this as evidence that the change works. However, they didn’t ask the question: Why did it work in some schools and not others? This should lead to another very pertinent question to be asked by any school district considering the change: Will it work in ours?Unfortunately, nobody knows. The reason is that it is extremely difficult to isolate the cause and effect of making this change in the school calendar. Oftentimes when schools decide to make this radical adjustment in their scheduling, they implement other big changes in their systems at the same time. Examples are things like team-teaching, co-operative learning options, and staffing changes that are not dependent on the year-round curriculum, but are conveniently altered with sweeping change or reform. As a result, to date there are no popularly cited studies that have been able to successfully determine a cause-and-effect relationship between school achievement and altering the academic calendar. Get it? There are no statistically valid studies in existence to support the superiority of year-round schooling! Zip. Zero. Nada.So, in the absence of conclusive evidence to support the adoption of a year-round calendar, the question of whether we should do it in Aspen is reduced to decidedly non-academic reasons. That’s the truth.If this is all about personal preference and convenience then, some of what I don’t like about the change to year-round schooling is as follows:1. It keeps our kids in school for much of what is the greatest season anywhere in the world – summertime in Aspen, Colorado!2. The expanded breaks in spring and fall do not really amount to time off for high school athletes who can’t leave town or do much of anything in town because practice and game schedules are tied to leagues that follow the traditional calendar.3. We eliminate the possibilities of meaningful summer jobs for our kids. If the bitter truth be known, I probably learned more valuable life lessons cleaning up construction sites, bagging groceries and coaching T-ball on my high school summer jobs than I did in school.4. In the year-round schedule, if you can’t afford to get away two more times a year for the extended spring and fall breaks (in addition to the summer and winter breaks), the weather isn’t great and there isn’t much for kids to do here. It’s mud season, remember? Finally, one of the loud knocks against the traditional school calendar is that kids forget so much schooling over summer break. To this I can only answer by asking another question: What is so awful about forgetting about school for a few months during the summer anyway? Some research shows that student achievement actually continues to increase over summer break in communities with demographics like Aspen’s. Truly! [Alexander, Entwisle & Olson (2007)]
If there had been year-round school when Roger Marolt was a kid, he would have run away and joined the circus. He’s not clowning around at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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