Government reports got it wrong on calendar reforms
Nearly all 'model' YR schools of the early 1990s
A Follow-up on the 'Model' YR Schools
Two multi-track schools are featured in this report.
Forshay Middle School - Los Angeles, California
This report touting the merits
of the year-round calendar is the product
The widely circulated devoted much space to laying the legal and regulatory foundation for states to usher in year-round schools.
The report notes there were 37 YR schools in five Southern Growth Policies Board states at the time their report was issued. A records check found that nearly all those schools later returned to a traditional school year. Here is a follow-up on some of the "model" schools spotlighted in that report, which served to inspire year-round school experiments in other districts and states.
Lockett Elementary School - New Orleans.
Mooresville Graded School District, North
Wyomenia Park Elementary School-
Project Lead was a federal program that funded a report on year-round education. The report touted the success of Florida's year-round pilot program in Ocala and other communities. (Most of those communities later returned to a traditional school year.) The Florida Project Lead report was circulated at a national education meeting in the early 1990s, which may have served to encourage other school districts across the country to experiment with the year-round calendar.
At the very time state officials were rushing the monograph to press, the Ocala school district was embroiled in a bitter debate over the hardships, costs and the disappointing academic results of its year-round calendar experiment. The authors of the Project Lead report chose to make no mention of this.
Most of the sources of information cited in the monograph were proponents of the school calendar, including the Ocala superintendent who piloted the Florida year-round school program. Ironically, the Ocala superintendent was in the awkward position of promoting the year-round calendar as president of the National Association For Year-Round Education during the very year his own school board made the decision to abandoned it.
-NOTE: The above is a summary from memory and will be revised when I locate the Project Lead monograph, which is buried in one of about 20 boxes of research. The sources of information include Interviews with Florida State Department of Education officials and public records from state federal governments.--Billee Bussard
The National Governors' report said the year-round calendar is a more efficient use of taxpayer investment in school buildings and, "Most important, educators to date have found that improved academic performance can result from a restructured calendar that shortens the vacation periods away from formal instruction."
A list compiled by SummerMatters of thousands of schools that have since tried and rejected the year-round calendar provides strong evidence to refute those claims.
(See: The Reject List)
School Calendar Reforms Are Bad Medicine
By Billee Bussard
Itís time to remove school calendar change from the school improvement medicine cabinet.
Recommended as a school fix in a series of government reports over the last 15 years, reconfiguring the school year has proved to be both a bitter and ineffective pill. Thousands of schools across the nation have tried different calendars only to return to a traditional school year after disappointing results both within the classroom and community.
Itís time also to revisit the very reports that
served a catalyst for experiments
with a year-round calendar, extended school year and mid-summer school
starting dates, all of which cost more, but yield little to no improvement in
the academic health of the nationís schools.
National Governors' Report Was Wrong
Let's begin with "Time For Results" released in 1986 by the National Governors' Association , in the wake of our fears about economic competition from Pacific Rim and other industrialized nations. The National Governors' report said the year-round calendar is a more efficient use of taxpayer investment in school buildings and, "Most important, educators to date have found that improved academic performance can result from a restructured calendar that shortens the vacation periods away from formal instruction."
The experience in California over the last 15 years tells another story.
California, the state that consistently has the largest number of children in year-round schools (some 1.3 million or 62 percent of the nation's total in the 2000-2001 school year) is at the bottom of the performance list on the National Assessment for Education Progress.
Other evidence of the dismal failure of the year-round calendar is found in two recent California lawsuits on education inequities, in which the year-round calendar is cited as "academically damaging" and educationally inferior to the traditional school year. Among the evidence presented in the suit: attending school in hot summer's heat is not conducive to learning. "Experts have noted that significant reductions in reading speed and comprehension and mathematical skills occur when students are exposed to temperatures above 74 degrees," one lawsuit states.
Shouldn't commonsense tell us that?
Additionally, the multi-track calendar recommended in the National Governorsí report segregates by socio-economic, ethnic and racial groups and creates education inequities, according to an analysis of 1998 California test scores of 12,000 students by the University of California, Riverside.
A recently (December 2000) settled lawsuit brought about by the Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund supports these observations.
How can year-round education with its socio-inequity side-effects be considered progressive school reform?
Bill Bennett Was Wrong
Among those who jumped on the school calendar bandwagon a short time after the governors' report issued was U.S. Secretary of Education Bill Bennett, who in "First Lessons: A Report on Elementary Education in America," issued in 1986, embraced the argument that calendar change would prevent summer learning loss.
Bennett quotes R. Mac Irving, president of the Alabama Association of School Boards: "The potential benefits [of the year-round calendar] are too great to allow the traditional arguments in favor of the nine-month schools to prevail."
But that doesn't reconcile with a 1998 review of the
research on year-round education in Auburn, Ala., by a group of
parents serving on a school calendar committee--parents who also happened to be
distinguished faculty members at Auburn University.
"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,Ē Chris Newland, professor of psychology, reported to Auburn school officials.
Policies Report Wrong
What set the stage for the hundreds of failed school calendar experiments in the South over the last decade was a 37-page report in 1992 by the Southern Growth Policies Board.
The Southern Growth group is composed of elected officials and influential business and civic leaders from 13 Southern states and Puerto Rico.
The Southern Growth Policies report endorsed a year-round calendar and longer school year, claiming the year-round calendar is viewed as a means to break the so-called "psychological barrier" of the long summer vacation and is an incremental step toward expanding the school year.
Most telling about that report is the track record of the 37 year-round schools in five Southern states that were held out as success stories--models of the use of a year-round calendar. Interestingly, nearly all of those schools have since returned to a traditional school year.
In 1992, Florida had 27 schools in nine school districts on the year-round calendar. Among those original nine, today only Brevard remains with just three year-round schools.
Orange County, Fla., once held the dubious distinction as the nation's second largest year-round school district, but went from 66 year-round schools in 1994 to zero. However, two schools in the 2000-01 school year were experimenting with an extended year program.
Three of five schools highlighted in the Southern
Growth report no longer use a year-round calendar.
--Johnson Lockett Elementary in New Orleans, one of the early converts to a year-round calendar after the National Governorís report, returned to a traditional school year in fall of 1997.
--Mooresville Graded School District received an RJR Nabisco foundation grant in 1989 (one of 15 nationwide) to try the year-round calendar as part of the company's Next Century Schools program. It dropped the year-round model in 1999.
Elementary in Ocala was part of Florida's year-round pilot study, but the
school board voted to return to a traditional school year just a year
after the Southern Growth Policy Board report framed it as a success
North Carolina Study is Revealing
North Carolina rushed into the year-round calendar
following the Southern Growth Policies report as a means improve
performance while also addressing overcrowding problems. But a recent comprehensive analysis
of test scores shows no academic return for all the added investment in
time and money.
A study released in
March 2000 by Bradley McMillen, a researcher for the North Carolina
Department of Education, Division of Accountability Services, found in
a comparison of 345,000 test scores that year-round calendar students had no
academic advantage over traditional calendar students.
The North Carolina study, the largest and most credible comparison of the effects of calendar change to date, also casts a cloud over proposals to extend the school year because North Carolina makes additional instructional days mandatory in a majority of its year-round schools.
Calendar reconfiguration and experimentation with more of the same kind of instruction is clearly not the answer in North Carolina or elsewhere.
Prisoner's of Time
Study Got It Wrong
The catalyst for the proliferation of school calendar experiments we see today is "Prisoners of Time," a series of reports issued in 1994 by a federal study commission on time and learning. That report, like the others, asserted the traditional school year was an outdated "agrarian calendar" and recommended it be replaced with a longer school year. The report also presented year-round calendar schools in a glowing light, spotlighting several year-round school "success stories" around the country.
Interestingly, Emerson Elementary in Albuquerque,
N.M., one of the model schools visited by the study commission, returned
to a traditional calendar a short time after the Prisoners of Time report
In early March 2001, the school calendar reform
movement was dealt a significant blow when the citizens of Murfreesboro,
Tenn., successfully defeated a proposal for year-round school district
wide in Rutherford County. Murfreesboro was featured in the
Prisoner's Report for its extended day programs and was about to implement
its first year-round school calendar.
One of the Rutherford County School board member pushing hard for a year-round calendar district-wide was John Hodge Jones, none other than the man who chaired the Prisoners of Time commission.
The Cotton Pickin'
about the 'Agrarian Calendar'
At the height of the heated Murfreesboro debate, a past president of the Rutherford County Historical Society stepped forward to expose the cotton pickiní truth about the so-called agrarian calendar.
Proposed school calendars that would start the school year in late July and early August more resemble the agrarian schedule of the Depression era, when schools let out three to six weeks in summer so children could pick cotton.
"We've just gradually worked back to July. Each year we go a little bit further back to the calendar of the 1930s," she said.
John Hodge Jones is a life-long resident of rural
Rutherford County--farming country. At the time he chaired the Prisoner's
of Time commission, Murfreesboro City Schools had what was described in the April 1994 report as" the most
comprehensive extended day
and extended year program in the United States." The school
district was planning to open its first year-round school in
August 1994. A few years later, Jones would become a board member
of the National Association For Year-Round Education, the same
organization that is credited by former Montana Gov. Ted Schwinden for
selling the year-round school idea to the National Governors' Association
back in 1985.
It is ironic that 15 years after Schwinden chaired the governorsí task force on school facilities, endorsing the year-round calendar, his state still has only one year-round school, and that one is a residential treatment center for troubled youth and children with learning disabilities.
Interestingly, the move to a year-round calendar more than a decade ago both in Murfreesboro and Mooresville was urged by business leaders to accommodate the wishes of Japanese industrial prospects who were used to longer school years for their children.
Today, however, Japan is shrinking its school year and re-examining Asian approaches to education that its own critics say stifle the kind of creativity and ingenuity that has made the United States an economic success. A February 25, 2001, New York Times article states the reason for the change in Japan ďis 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.Ē
Evidence that the focus should be on quality time in the classroom rather than reconfiguring the school year or adding more school days is found in the Hutto, Texas, Independent School District. Since 1992, the traditional school year there has been trimmed from 180 days to as few as 165, and test scores have improved or remained stable ever since.
In Hutto, shifting funds and focus to teacher training, new instructional methods and efficiency of classroom operations has proved to be a good prescription for what ailed this truly independent Texas district.
The nation has experimented with school calendars long enough. We now have a strong body of evidence from more than 2,000 schools that took a dose of reconfigured school years to show that this medicine cures nothing and produces an unacceptable level of harmful side effects for families, children and communities.