Many schools throughout the United States are beginning to consider switching to a year-round style of education, and some have already made the transition. In this approach, students attend school for the same number of days as the traditional school year, but instead of having a long summer break, there are a set of breaks spaced throughout the year. Before switching though, it is good to consider some of the pros and cons of year-round learning.
Those who prefer year-round schooling agree that it allows for more intense instruction and consistent child care. The students are more likely to remember materials and will be less likely to experience summer boredom.
However, because there are no summer breaks, students won’t be able to experience summer camps and family vacations. In addition, the multiple short breaks may lead to a lack of focus. Year-round schooling could mean that the school management will have to spend more on operating expenses and staff salaries as well.
The Pros of Year-Round School
More “Intense” Instruction, With Breaks to Prevent Burnout
Teachers and students alike suffer from stress and fatigue. Many will even admit to just working from break to break in order to get by. With breaks spacing out the workload and giving opportunities to rest, teachers could put more energy into instruction without pacing themselves, and students could do the same with their learning.
While they could also still work at a lower level and “live for break”, students and staff who are dedicated to their work but are simply exhausted, actually have the chance to meet their potential, which in itself will energize and motivate them to perform better in the future.
Less Time to Forget Materials
Most teachers will tell you (in a frustrated voice) that a significant part of their first semester is spent in review; recapping can last all the way to Thanksgiving, especially in younger grades. Spending this much time simply in review means that many chances to teach new material are lost because the time is taken by the review lessons.
Some teachers even compare it re-teaching material rather than refreshing previous concepts. The younger the age, the more likely to find that extensive reviews dominate the first semester, but even in higher grades a considerable amount of time is spent on material that has already been taught.
With a year-round system, students have shorter breaks, in theory allowing them to retain more information, which both reduces the amount of time spent in review and increases the amount of progress made into new lessons.
No Need for Summer School
Rather than the expense and scheduling nightmare that is summer school, a year-round plan means that struggling students would have to be given extra learning opportunities during the school year. Plans like after school tutoring or extra review in class would most likely see more use.
The elimination of summer school also saves challenged students any embarrassment that stems from attending summer school. Children can be inquisitive at best or brutal at worst, and if they find out that a peer must attend summer remediation, it may well affect the struggling student by making him insecure and possibly building a dislike of school leading to a rejection of the material.
Eliminating Summer Boredom for the Students
Younger students or older students who opt out of student jobs usually find themselves wandering around in the summer with nothing to do. Once the newness of summer freedom wears off, students realize that they don’t have much to do, and this can lead to a whole host of problems.
Children can spend more time than is healthy in front of their screens. TVs, phones, or other devices are a very handy distraction and can help the parents take a much-needed break, but too much exposure can lead to focus problems and is a less productive use of their time than some other alternatives. Of course, there are also worse activities for a child to engage in over the summer than playing video games or watching movies.
The reality of the long summer break is that it was designed for agricultural reasons – children went home over the summer to help with the farms. Now it is more of a liability, where children usually are more or less unsupervised due to working parents, or else the parents have to pay for childcare.
Consistent, Year-Round Child Care
Since working parents, unfortunately, don’t have a summer break, this means that in a traditional schedule, they either trust and hope that their unsupervised children won’t get into too much trouble, or they foot the bill for a kind of childcare.
Some of these may be masked as fun activities, such as camps, sports, and lessons (and they certainly have value), while other options are just as simple as hiring a nanny or babysitting. Either way, it can become an added stress for the parents, knowing that their children do not have the kind of quality care that they receive at school.
There is probably no nurse or first aid caregiver on hand, and much less accountability for thoughtless actions, at least until the parents get home from work. With a year round approach, the parents are relieved of this burden, and the children’s time can be put to better use.
The Cons of Year-Round School
Unique Summer Opportunities Will Be Harder to Access or Transition to the New Plan
Most adults remember adventures that they had over summer break, and whether they were good or bad experiences, they all make entertaining memories. Summer camps and group activities, and family camping trips and vacations all have a lasting impact on children by teaching life lessons and giving them memories to look back on.
Even the lessons learned from summer jobs as teenagers have significant value. Keeping with the traditional approach ensures that these activities still have a chance to happen, while switching to year-round school makes them harder, if not impossible. Eventually, businesses like summer camps would adapt to survive, but there might be a gap of several years before they made the switch.
Higher Operating Costs and Staff Salaries Over the Summer, and Building Maintenance
While the school might save money on programs like summer school, they may very well be outweighed by the cost of operating a school throughout the year. Staffing costs money, and even general costs like electricity would rise over the summer. Schools are already looking for ways to work on a slim budget, and this could be an unnecessary strain on resources.
In addition, most schools use the longer summer break as an opportunity to get building maintenance done. Any big project will be easier to do with an empty school, whether it be a new addition to the building, a roofing project, or just yearly maintenance.
Besides ordinary repairs on the structure, kids are hard on everything, as all parents can affirm. This means fresh coats of paint, more frequent repairs on day-to-day items like water fountains, and the like. A school that is empty for months is the perfect time for contractors and workmen to get in, complete their job, and leave before the students are around. With a year-round plan, this opportunity is lost.
Harder to Schedule Family Time
As mentioned earlier, classic summer activities like family vacations and camping trips are jeopardized by a continuous school year. Again, this does not mean that they would completely go away – ways are always found for priorities- but there may be a lag time between the new schedule, and learning how to adapt as a family, with taking time off work, etc.
Extended trips would be considerably harder to do without missing at least some school, but a standard vacation of a week or two could easily be accomplished, just perhaps at a different time than usual.
Multiple Short Breaks May Lead to a Lack of Focus
As discussed earlier, students and teachers alike have a tendency to just push through to the next break. With that in mind, they could either thrive, putting energy and interest into their classes, or they could simply sink into a sort of holding pattern where a minimum of work is done in order to make it to the next time off.
In reality, it seems that the student would have to choose – no one can force a good work ethic to appear but changing to a year-round approach could possibly lead to sinking grades from the students who were content with mediocre effort while following the traditional schedule.
These are just a few of the many pros and cons of the discussion, which varies across the nation. The best answer is almost never universal, and this is no exception. Perhaps in rural areas where help is still needed through the summer, the standard method is better, and the more urban areas would see better results from a year-round schedule. Perhaps a compromise could be made where there are more breaks throughout the year, but the longest break stretches over the summer.
Various plans have been made since a one size fits all approach would be a disaster. Since many schools across the country are considering switching over, different pros and cons could emerge over the few years to alter the discussion, but in the meantime, an informed decision can be made by weighing the values outlined earlier and deciding what is the best plan for you.