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School calendar fundamentals
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Counterpoints to Widespread Misinformation on YRS 

YRS benefit claims can't be substantiated

      For the 30 years between 1970 and 2000,  unsubstantiated claims of year-round schooling benefits spread largely unchallenged throughout  the nation's media, education journals and government reports. The unchecked statements helped perpetuate the perception that experiments with the year-round calendar were a great success story and that year-round school was the  wave of the future.
     Here we offer information to counter some of the most frequently repeated misrepresentations and misinformation about the benefits of year-round school. Many of the "Myth" statements  used here are the actual words or excerpts from statements made repeatedly by  year-round school proponents over the last three decades.

     Watch for future additions of reference sources  from media accounts and research studies that refute myths perpetuated by YRS proponents. 
Last updated June 7, 2001.

     NOTE: An abridged version of  School Calendar Myth and Reality is available in pamphlet form. It is a perfect handout for school board and information meetings. For information on how you can get them quickly, contact Billee Bussard, editor of  SummerMatters!!
   
Toll-free No. (877) 659-1671; E-mail: bussardre@aol.com  

Myth No. 1:  Year-Round School is a timely idea.

Reality:  Year-round education is not an idea for the new millennium, but a failed school reform from the early 1900s — the Horse  and Buggy Days.
     The current year-round school movement is inspired by calendar reforms in the early part of this century in Bluffton and Gary, Indiana. The concept met with parent objections and controversy back then as it does today.
                                  -Source:. Hermansen & Gove;  Glines

Myth No 2 : The current school year is  an obsolete “agrarian” calendar.

Reality: Agrarian calendar is a misnomer.  The traditional school calendar with a long summer break is a compromise arrived at by rural farming areas and city centers as they incorporated into large school districts after government funding made access to high school more readily available. The actual traditional school calendar of 170 to 180 days didn’t become practice  until  World War II.                               -Source: Shepard and Baker, 1977

The Cotton Pickin' Truth About the Agrarian Calendar Myth surfaced during  the height of a heated year-round school debate in March 2001 in  Murfreesboro, Tenn., when Nell Blakenship,  a past president of the Rutherford County Historical Society,  shared her research on the issue. Starting the school year in late July and early August more resembled the agrarian schedule of the Depression era, when schools let out three to six weeks in the summer so children could pick cotton, the historian said, adding:

"We've just gradually worked back to July. Each year we go a little bit further back to the calendar of the 1930s." 

Myth No. 3:  The traditional school calendar gives children excessive free time.

Reality: Modern society has provided many educational and recreational options that keep most of today's children busy and engaged during the  40 weeks of the traditional school year.     Today’s children spend weekends involved  in such things as sports teams, arts programs, jobs, computer learning, helping with household chores and baby sitting in families where there are two working parents, as well as special school projects and hefty doses of homework. 
     Many psychologists are expressing concern about the mental health consequences of  shrinking hours of downtime for children to be children. The long summer break offers the time needed for other kinds of learning that is important  to growth and development.
     If you do the math on proposals to extend the school year by 30 days, which is being pushed in many states, it will leave children and families only 27 days out of the entire year that are unencumbered by school pressures, homework and activities.
 

Myth No. 4:  Year-round school reduces “summer learning loss.”

Reality: Credible research shows the percentage of children returning in the fall knowing less is small. For most, however, the loss is pretty close to zero. . . .

    
"The difference in the amount of forgetting after four weeks or 12  is not significant, especially when it is recognized that some of the information had been taught almost a year earlier in the previous fall.  In fact, one could argue that a year-round calendar, with its multiple three-week breaks, simply offers more opportunity to forget.”

                                              --Chris Newland, professor of psychology, Auburn University,
                                           review of the research presented to Auburn school board, 1998.

Myth No. 5:  A year-round calendar  reduces the four to six weeks of review time teachers typically spend in the fall.

Reality: Studies show real learning loss occurs within two weeks of leaving school, therefore a year-round schedule which creates more frequent breaks requires more review time and less time on task.  A traditional calendar creates more learning because learning is a building process.

    “An effective education is not a collection  of quickly forgotten, isolated facts, but rather the accumulation of a a solid foundation of knowledge and a diverse array of analytical and procedural skills that are not forgotten in a few short weeks. The difference in the amount of forgetting after four weeks or 12 is not significant, especially when it is recognized that some of the information had been taught almost a year earlier. In the previous fall. In fact, one could argue that the year-round calendar, with its multiple three-week breaks, simply offers more opportunities to forget.”

                                                                                 —Chris Newland, Auburn University, 1998.

Myth No. 6: A year-round calendar  is beneficial to society in general because it fits local circumstances.

Reality: A year-round calendar is out of sync with a society that has built its schedule and family traditions around the school year. Having different communities around the nation on different school calendars complicates life in many ways. Among the increased complications: difficulty scheduling family visits, school competitions, summer camp, athletic events and college course work required of teacher to maintain certification.

Myth No. 7:  Year-round school “intersession” programs work.

Reality: Intersessions are too little too late.

     "A three-week period is insufficient time to ameliorate any child's academic problems. Moreover, intersession classes are usually optional and in many school systems are not well attended."                                         
--Chris Newland, Auburn University, 1998.
 

      Children who need help often don’t attend the year-round school intersessions and go on family vacations.  There is no evidence that sending kids to intersessions six to nine weeks after they fall behind or to summer is a better remediation approach than after-school tutoring, peer counseling or Saturday classes, when problems can be address immediately. 
     A comprehensive study released in March 2000 by the North Carolina Department of Education, Division of Accountability Services, found the year-round calendar with its intersessions, which were mandatory for at-risk kids in a majority of schools, resulted in no academic advantage when compared to children on the traditional school calendar.
     S
ummer school remediation programs in places where they are mandatory have not worked effectively. They have low attendance and a high rate of failure, as evident from news stories on summer school 2000 in New York City and Chicago.
    

Myth No. 8: A year-round school offers more school enrichment opportunity.

Reality: Cash-strapped school systems that cannot afford to build schools and barely have funds for textbooks are unlikely to be able to afford enrichment programs.

Myth No. 9: Year-round school answers English learning problems of immigrant children.

Reality:  Year-round schools were used for the same reasons at the turn of the century and were abandoned in part because they failed to fulfill the English language improvement promises.

Myth No. 10:  A year-round calendar  is better because it instills the idea that learning is like the work of adults, continuous.

Reality: Learning is not exclusive to a classroom. It is a natural and continuous human process that occurs in or out of school.

“Children learn many things out of school. It is absurd to suggest that children aren’t learning during the summer. It’s a different type of learning, which simply is not tested.”
                                                                                    ---Dr. Leo Wisebender,
                                    Los Angeles Unified School Program and Evaluation Branch , 1994.

Myth No. 11:  A year-round calendar is more suitable because it allows families to take vacations all seasons of the year.

Reality:  Few families can afford  more than one vacation a year and often that is taken close to home and in the summer.  If it were a more suitable calendar, why is there such a low participation in year-round calendars used by private schools, which are attended by children of families who can afford to vacation any time of the year?

Myth No. 12: Record numbers  of schools are adopting alternative school calendars.

Reality:  Record numbers of school districts are  rejecting the idea of a year-round calendar either after sad experiences or after careful study in which they reach the conclusion that calendar reform is  a bad idea. (See The Reject List.
    
Though year-round school is portrayed as the "wave of the future" and a popular school reform (42 states had at least one year-round school by the year 2000), the fact remains that 80 percent of all the nation's year-round students are located in the five fast-growth states in the western-most area of the United States (California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Hawaii).
     In the 1990s alone, at least 1,000 schools switched back to a traditional school year, many of them among the 15 largest year-round school programs in the nation. Over 500 Los Angeles schools voted to  switched back in 1993, about 200 Florida schools dropped the year-round calendar and hundreds  more abandoned it in Texas.

Myth No. 13:  Year-round school reduces student absenteeism.

Reality: Numerous accounts of absenteeism problems caused by the year-round calendar are found in media accounts. San Diego, is one of the best examples. In 1993, the school board issued a three-year moratorium on year-round schools because so many children failed to show up for the first day of school in mid summer. Similar stories are told in New Orleans where high absenteeism of both students and teachers was among the reasons  Lockett Elementary  School   returned to a traditional calendar after eight years if YRS.

Myth No. 14:  Vandalism and juvenile crime decreases under a year-round calendar.

Reality: This flies in the face of reports by Gang Services officials in Los Angeles who say there is corresponding growth in gangs and the emergence of the year-round school.  That’s because a year-round calendar creates thousands of latchkey kids, who are left unattended during frequent breaks that allow for more unsupervised time. More unsupervised time often corresponds with increases in drug experimentation, juvenile violence and teenage pregnancy.  Many parents have told school boards that child care is easier to arrange for a longer summer vacation than multiple short vacations throughout the year.

Myth No. 15:   A year-round calendar reduces tensions between students and demands of school.

Reality: The year-round calendar creates more tensions,  especially on a multi-track system when best neighborhood friends are placed on different tracks and are unable to participate together  in sports and other extracurricular activities.

Myth No. 16:  A year-round calendar improves the academic environment.

Reality: A year-round schedule often limits elective choices because specialty teachers cannot be available for all tracks. The overall academic benefit of a year-round calendar is unsubstantiated in credible research studies.

Myth No. 17: Jobs are not affected by the school calendar.

Reality: Travel-related employment is ranked No. 1, 2 or 3 in 11 of 14 states, according to one survey of member states that make up the Southern Growth Policies Board region. So those jobs tied to tourism, camping and amusement industries and products manufactured for summertime activities are impacted by shrinking vacation time for children and families, and subsequently, the economy is impacted. A year-round calendar and early school year also limits opportunities for teenagers to hold summer jobs, which are often critical for college. 

Myth No. 18:  Student vacations are less of an issue then most educators think. How long must a vacation be to restore someone?

Reality: Student vacations are not only about “restoring” children or teachers after  rigorous academic schedules, but about having the freedom, choice  and  time to learn or do other things.

Myth No. 19: Academic data on existing year-round secondary schools are promising.

Reality: Most of the  data cited by year-round proponents over the last 30 years comes from studies that have been discounted by researchers  because of flawed methodology.  At best, the academic results found in the majority of these older studies are mixed. Serious doubts about performance benefits of school calendar reforms are found in more recent studies by Mitchell at the University of California, Riverside, and by McMillen with the  North Carolina Department of Education, Division of Accountability Services.

Myth No. 20: Year-round schools will curb social problems.

Reality:  Year-round school experiments that began in the early 1900s were abandoned in part because they failed to answer social problems back then. Why will they address the problems of the new millennium any better?

Myth No. 21: Year-round schools answer economic needs of the nation and is an efficient use of taxpayer money.

Reality: The calendar is actually more costly and only postpones the inevitable need for building new schools.  The wear-and-tear and maintenance costs  involved in operating a year-round school negate any perceived savings.  Even under optimal circumstances, the savings are insignificant, research shows.

"Cost savings are often illusory, as multi-track YRS only defers but does not eliminate school construction."
                                                                            
-Robert Rosenfeld, attorney,
                                                              Memorandum in Opposition to Year-Round Schools, 
                                                                           Montgomery County, Maryland, Dec. 22, 1993

The California year-round incentive money program "costs as much as building new schools . . . Districts are getting paid twice--once to avoid construction, and once to build traditional calendar schools."
                                                                            
-State Sen. Marian Bergeson,
                address to the National Association For Year-Round Education, October 1990

"As with many education innovations, advocates of year-round schooling have sometimes oversimplified and exaggerated the financial benefits that will accrue to districts on year-round schedules . . .In some instances, savings have been so minimal that year-round schooling has been abandoned after just a few years of implementation."
                                                                                          
-Barbara J. Merino,
                                                                     "The Impact of year-round Schooling, a Review," 
                                                                                                           Urban Education, Oct. 1983

Myth No. 22:  The traditional calendar has been around 100 years and has outlived its usefulness.

Reality: The traditional calendar as we know it has been around about 50 years. It continues to work very well for American society, which has built its traditions and business schedules around it.  If  today's school calendar were obsolete, why would  industrial competitors, like Japan, be adjusting their calendars to more resemble that of American schools?
    
The reason for the change in Japan is: "a growing concern that an orderly and unimaginative school system excels at producing pliant, disciplined workers, which the nation needed for its rebuilding effort after World War II, but is failing to produce the problem solvers and innovators needed for the future.”
                                                                                            -New York Times,
                                                                                                                          February 25, 2001