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Where school is never out for the summer

For millions of kids across America, summer vacation is about to begin. But for an increasing number of kids in school districts around the country, summer vacation is a thing of the past and year-round schooling is the rule.
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It’s summer time and school is out. Or is it? For an increasing number of kids in school districts around the United States, an extended summer vacation is a thing of the past and year-round schooling is the rule.

AT OAK BROOK Elementary School here in California, for instance, teachers and students finish their school year on June 27. Ten days later, a new one begins.

Not surprisingly, students at Oak Brook have mixed feelings about this idea.

Students in Angela Martella’s second- and third-grade class spoke about their unique school calendar. Nine-year-old William Terrell longs for a summer break.

“I would have more time to play,” he says.

His classmate, Kristine Campos, also 9, disagrees.

“I wouldn’t remember as much and I wouldn’t have anything to do,” she says to the delight of her teacher.


Alternatives to the traditional September-to-June school calendar have been used in some form over the past 100 years. But since the late 1980s, year-round schooling has expanded rapidly. The National Association for Year-Round Education (NAYRE), an advocacy group, says some 2.3 million children attended a school using a year-round calendar in 2002-2003. That is up from only about 500,000 in 1990.

The group’s statistics show that year-round schools exist in 46 states, but more than half of them are in California.

Year-round schooling has sparked a passionate debate among academics and educators. At Oak Brook, children attend school for three months at a time, and then get a one-month break. Overall, they spend the same amount of time in the classroom as students subject to the traditional September-to-June schedule.

Central to the year-round philosophy is the idea that students fail to retain much of what they learned the previous year during the long summer vacation.

According to NAYRE, there are three forms of year-round education:

Single-track, which features one schedule with several short breaks spread over 12 months.

Multi-track, features up to five different schedules that are staggered in order to serve more students without requiring more class space.

Extended calendars, which increase the number of school days to 240. The usual number of school days is 180.


School districts often adopt the year-round schedule to alleviate overcrowding and avoid costly new construction. But year-round proponents also believe the different schedule leads to higher academic achievement, primarily because students have the opportunity to review material throughout the school year during their breaks, often called “inter-sessions”, instead of having to wait until summer for remedial instruction.

According to Dr. Richard D. Alcorn, a senior policy analyst for the National Center for Time and Learning, and a staff member of the NAYRE: “The best way to improve academic performance is to go to year-round schools. It’s not even close.”

“In a traditional school year,” he says, “they’re dropped off in June and told, ‘See you in September.’ A multi-track calendar helps students in need and in a continuous fashion.”

Alcorn also cited studies suggesting that the long summer break requires teachers to spend over six weeks in the autumn reviewing material from the past year.

“When you’re only gone for two or three weeks you can start right where you left off,” Alcorn says.

Dr. Harris Cooper, who heads the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri, agrees.

“The difference with the modified calendars is that you get more opportunities to remediate,” Cooper says. Instead of cramming nine months of lessons into a summer class, “you get multiple little boosts rather than trying to catch them all up at once.”


Those opposed to year-round schools say that the studies used by the NAYRE to demonstrate increases in academic performance are flawed because they do not regularly appear in academic journals and instead are sold via the organization’s Web site.

Billee Bussard, a former journalist who now researches the school calendar issue full-time, distrusts those who support year-round education. Bussard operates a Web site called, which features comments from unhappy parents and academic research skeptical of the benefits espoused by proponents of year-round education.

“I just think this has been one of the biggest scams of the last century,” Bussard says of year-round education, “and somebody needs to be telling the other side of the story.”

Adds Bussard: “There’s no hard evidence to show that year-round schools have any educational value.”

Indeed, Cooper, the University of Missouri professor who supports the idea, concedes as much in a recent article in the Review of Educational Research.

“A truly credible study of modified calendar effects has yet to be conducted,”

he noted.

Dr. Ross Mitchell, a research scientist at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., who specializes in analyzing educational policies, says research data is desperately needed.

“My impression is that review after the summer is not all that long,” Mitchell says. “If you ask teachers how long they spend, you have a flawed measure. You have to actually watch them.”


In Oak Brook’s case, switching to a calendar with four periods or “tracks” (Red, Blue, Yellow and Green) was done to accommodate the rising school population. The school’s principal, Charles Miller, says the parents and administration believed the multi-track system improved the children’s educational experience as well.

“In terms of learning,” Miller says, “the year-round system is better because it’s continual learning.”

Over 800 students are enrolled at Oak Brook, kindergarten through sixth-grade. Because of the multi-track calendar, only three tracks, roughly 600 students, are in school at any given time.

The constant pace has its drawbacks. “The downside is what goes on behind the scenes,” Miller said. Sending messages to his staff is problematic for Miller because a quarter of his teachers are always on vacation. “It’s like going into a locker room and only having three-fourths of your team,” Miller says.

Angela Martella, who teaches second and third grade, agreed. She mentioned that staff meetings are hindered by teachers who are either preoccupied with their impending vacations or a new three-month session. “Our calendar is crazy,” Martella said, “but we’re used to it.”

But with continual learning comes continual administration. Miller, Oak Brook’s principal for three years, joked, “I’m never really off.”