Please help me understand people's objections to year-round public school.
April 23, 2009 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Please help me understand people's objections to year-round public school.

I'll confess right up front that my grasp on this issue is not as firm as it could or should be, but, based on what I've seen, the pros of year-round schooling seem to have the cons considerably outweighed. I live in a part of the U.S. that does not seem to have much in the way of year-round schooling and I’d be interested in learning more about this, whether anecdotally, with links to discussions online, or what have you. Nayre has been an interesting, albeit partial, source of information.

As I see it:


1. Year-round schooling seems to improve students’ retention of subject material, so that more classroom time can be spent learning new material.
2. The boredom some students experience over a lengthy summer vacation can be ameliorated.
3. Multiple tracks – i.e., having students stagger their vacations – can be used in school districts with burgeoning student populations, reducing the need for additional buildings (which advantage may be partially offset by higher year-round costs of staffing the buildings, utilities, etc).
4. Families can vacation during the summer break (however much shorter it may be) and during breaks in the traditional “school year” as well.
5. For the most part, we’re not an agrarian society, so that traditional rationale for summer vacations has diminished considerably.
6. Other industrial nations have moved to this type of schedule with positive results.
7. Year-round schooling would seem to be a natural gateway toward lengthening the school year and/or school day. (That’s a pro for me; I know others might disagree.)
8. I’ve read that year-round schooling can allow more time and resources to be spent with children who are struggling – I’m not exactly sure how that works, although I think retention would be a significant issue for kids with learning disabilities or who otherwise simply would benefit from having shorter breaks.


1. I can see how this could be a nightmare for families with kids in different schools, with differing schedules. Arranging after-school care or “vacation” care for kids on a year-round schedule could definitely be tough for many.
2. Finding time for summer jobs and interscholastic athletics for older children (I’m guessing high school age?) would be tough with year-round school; although I’d personally want to see more emphasis placed on academic achievement, I know these are important to many older kids and their families. That doesn’t present much of an objection for the K-8 crowd, though.
3. There’s inertia, the tradition of lengthy summer vacations, and fear of the unknown, of course, and I imagine they play a very large role in debates around this issue.
4. One possible disadvantage might be for teachers – I’ve known many public school teachers who paint houses or otherwise work separate jobs in the summers to earn more money, and year-round schooling would cut into that.
5. Is there any evidence that year-round schooling is “better,” however that may be defined (test scores, “happier” or well-adjusted kids, socially, etc.)?

On balance, year-round schooling seems to have the much better argument. Which pros and cons am I missing? As the title of the question indicates, I’m more interested in an argument that might favor the traditional schedule – not out of ideology, but out of genuine curiosity that I’m somehow giving the traditional schedule short shrift in my admittedly simplistic comparison.

I know there are many hot-button issues currently being discussed that concern education and educational policy - such as charter schools, the possibility of paying higher-performing teachers (however that's measured) more than their peers, and debates over No Child Left Behind - but I'd prefer comments focused on the relative merits of the traditional schedule versus the year-round schedule.

I'm mostly interested in this question as it pertains to the United States, but international perspectives would also be interesting to read.

posted by cheapskatebay to Education (58 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
3. There’s inertia, the tradition of lengthy summer vacations, and fear of the unknown, of course, and I imagine they play a very large role in debates around this issue.

I'm pretty sure that's more than inertia and not quite fear of the unknown. I'm not able to quote anythign specific, but I would expect that children need more time rather than less time to be able to define and develop their own identities rather than be constantly guided by a "track".
posted by setanor at 10:26 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Teachers would ask for (and deserve) a significant increase in pay.

The tourism industry, which rakes in quite a bit of money on summer vacations, would get killed.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:31 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Speaking as someone who works in a high school, I don't think you can discount the "we don't have it now and the change involved would be HUGE" factor which for many people is a big deal. So even if year round schooling may win on points, many people who have school age children or who work in the education system have entire lives built up around the ten month system. This is more than intertia, this is people planning families, edication paths and careers based on certain truths about how school works in the US. Saying "well but this other system makes more sense" isn't going to make it a more genuine option for them.
posted by jessamyn at 10:31 AM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

It only applies to a small subset of the US school population, but for a lot of gifted kids with serious non-academic interests, like dance or the visual arts, summer vacation is a way to get intensive instruction, possibly in other states, without compromising their regular education. And academically gifted kids go to camps where they can study things that are substantially outside the curriculum of all but the very, very best high schools in the US.

I also knew a number of very talented and very, very motivated science majors at my Ivy League undergrad who, starting in high school, used their summers to conduct research under the supervision/for university professors.
posted by joyceanmachine at 10:32 AM on April 23, 2009

the teachers, especially the ones in public schools, would also want additional compensation for 3 more months of actual work. the unions would rightly have something to say about a district going year-round.
posted by the aloha at 10:33 AM on April 23, 2009

The nostalgia of missing out on Summer off.
posted by ducktape at 10:35 AM on April 23, 2009

I think the main problem is financial: you'd have to pay teachers more, and in some places you'd have to make some improvements in facilities, like adding air conditioning. You'd also get resistance from divorced parents whose custody arrangements involve kids visiting the other parent for the summer and from immigrant parents who want their kids to be able to spend a chunk of time in their home country every year.
posted by craichead at 10:40 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Summer is the best time for kids to be outside, having fun. Kids should get to do a fair amount of that, in my opinion. Also as a kid who hated school, that long break without having to even think about school was a very useful kind of mental reboot.

Also, when I were a young lad, schools were not air conditioned. Something would have to be done about this to conduct classes during the hottest time of the year. Perhaps this is different now.
posted by FishBike at 10:42 AM on April 23, 2009

There is still a significant population of students who do live and work on farms.
posted by jgirl at 10:42 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

It would make education at least 30% more expensive. That's a big cost increase.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:42 AM on April 23, 2009

I'm a former teacher, and I find the entire concept of school somewhat bizarre. School hasn't really changed in 100 years. You get thirty kids of the same age together in a rectangular room. Depending on which way the pendulum swings (it has ten year cycles) kids sit either at individual desks or in small groups. A teacher stands at the front of the room and tries to transmit knowledge. Sometimes the curriculum is "learner-centered", but "mastery learning" is very rare indeed because class sizes are too large (budgets rather than actual student outcomes have the largest influence on curriculum) and we as a society do not have significant interest in learning and teaching to make that teaching style work.

On top of it all, schools most often resemble industrial or office parks. They are utilitarian, modular structures without much personality, often toxic (either the carpeting, the mold in the walls, or the paint) with little attention paid to how the design of the school will influence thought and creativity.

From my point of view, there is little reason to have school year-round. The summer provides a welcome break. Students get tired of going to school day in and day out, and those two months help kids recharge for the following ten months.

The two-month summer break is also a vestigial remainder of our former *intact* agrarian culture. It made sense to take the summer off, for the harvest. By preserving this old schedule we at least maintain some ties to our past. Hardly logical or efficient, but, then again, why does school have to conform to our Cartesian culture?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:43 AM on April 23, 2009 [9 favorites]

Seconding craichead: in New England, hot muggy summertime New England, year-round schooling would require air conditioning through the summer - a large utility expense.

Many New England schools do not have air conditioning, so you would also have the capital costs to install it.
posted by zippy at 10:44 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have many friends who are teachers, and at least two of them would quit teaching if their only option became year-round school. Having summers "off" is a huge deal for them, and losing them is a deal breaker. I imagine there are many other teachers who feel the same way; it would be hard to lose a lot of good teachers.
posted by peep at 10:45 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

The school system as it is structured today simply does not work for a large percentage of the kids stuck in it. Why on earth would we want to subject them to two more months of it every year?
posted by COD at 10:48 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I went to middle school in a DC suburb that had year-round school. I personally loved it. The classes were smaller, so a higher teacher-student ratio. I loved having time off from school at various times of year, etc.

My mom, a schoolteacher in the same district, also enjoyed it. She made sure us kids were on the same break pattern as she was, of course, and we took all kinds of cool off-season vacations to places that would normally be way crowded in the summer.

There must have been enough people who objected to it for whatever reasons, however, because I have heard that that district has gone back to the traditional schedule.
posted by trip and a half at 10:53 AM on April 23, 2009

As zippy indicated above, most physical school structures is not designed to be used year-round. Besides air conditioning matters, you would have to completely re-work maintenance and construction schedules.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:55 AM on April 23, 2009

In Central and Southern MN and ND there are still a non-trivial number of 'farm kids'. (As was said above.)

And that's just the agricultural side of it, if their family does livestock some of those kids are working year-round.

(As a 'city kid' you learn fast that 'farm kids' are tough as nails and strong as hell. In grade school I got into a fight with one who administered an ass-kicking that I still remember. I learned it was much better to be friends with them than enemies.)
posted by unixrat at 10:56 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

You need to be clear what you mean by year round school.

Column A: School is open year round, a student is in school the same number of days as now, students still receive a long break, but that long break is staggered somehow so that 20--25% of students are on their long break at any given moment.

Column B: School is open year round, a student is in school the same number of days as now, students receive no long break, students receive multiple shorter breaks.

Column C: School is open year round, a student is in school many more days than now.

It looks to me like different parts of your pros and cons draw from different columns.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:57 AM on April 23, 2009

For a while at least, my mother needed those summers off to obtain the master's degree the state required for teachers after a certain amount of time on the job, and then to take other courses to enhance and improve her skills and obtain various certifications. Sure, some of that can be done on weekends and evenings or online, but isn't it nice when a teacher has the time to really learn his or her craft?
posted by padraigin at 11:02 AM on April 23, 2009

2. The boredom some students experience over a lengthy summer vacation can be ameliorated.

You're suggesting school as a solution to boredom? I vehemently disagree.

Perhaps I am too old to accurately remember, but my recollection is that the vast majority of students find school horribly boring, look forward to summer vacation with greater zest than adults could possibly imagine and dread the return of school like the plague.

Children need unstructured time to play. Lots and lots of it.
posted by Izner Myletze at 11:05 AM on April 23, 2009 [15 favorites]

My objection would that it undermines children's education. Speaking as an enthusiast of my academic learning and a fairly highly educated person by international standards, I definitely think that class time is only a small fraction of the necessary education a child should receive, and that extra class time comes at the detriment of other important areas of education.

I also think this idea is barking up the wrong tree - there are plenty of countries that turn out a well-educated citizenry without stripping kids of their childhood and putting them in school all year, so the idea that improving US results should involve doing more of what is currently failing to work, seems doomed to failure from the start.

I'm not an expert on US schools (I was publicly educated in another country), though I live in the USA, and from my outsider's perspective it seems to me that the amount of time spent - or not spent - in the classroom has pretty much zero relationship to the lackluster results of the education system here. I would suggest that more time in class is pointless.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:06 AM on April 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

The farmer's family as source of summer break is largely a myth (disclosure: link to current employer): it was actually urban New England wealthy families who wanted to escape the hot cities during the summer months to vacation homes. Now, middle and upper class families are very attached to their children's summer activities, many of which (band camp, trip to Europe, summer school, etc) actually have a ton of educational value which poor kids don't take advantage of.

Interia is a big issue. Cost is a HUGE issue (though some programs suggest redistributing the 180 school days rather than extending the year - this reduces sumemr learning loss while not gaining the benefits of extended time). Unions are also an issue, many of whom would rather not have teachers working the extra time.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 11:07 AM on April 23, 2009

On post: padgrin's problem is solved in some models (most notably, at Generation Schools in New York) through time off for blocks of teachers at certain times during the year, or extra time intersperced in the year for professional development. There's a lot of movement on this issue, and a lot of innovation particularly in charters.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 11:08 AM on April 23, 2009

I don't think most other developed countries have three-month-long, U.S.-style summer vacations, Izner Myletze. It's not my sense that American kids are much more mentally healthy than their peers in other countries, and there does seem to be an academic cost.

Even if you had the same number of school days, just divided more evenly, you'd have to pay teachers more. A lot of teachers rely on summer employment to augment their salaries. It would be harder to find a bunch of temporary jobs for shorter school breaks, rather than one temporary job for a long break.
posted by craichead at 11:09 AM on April 23, 2009

My understanding of student/family argument: More time for students to find paying jobs was a very strong argument for the families at the (mostly) blue-collar family HS where I taught. This was always brought up when anyone discussed a longer or later school day. The parents I talked to were neutral about academic achievement, but big on having their child available to work (the thought being that they were not going to attend college anyway, so why make school any more demanding than it already was).

My personal opinion: As a former teacher, I think the step before making school year round would have to involve working to increase student motivation during the regular school hours. As others have commented, the large block of time off is almost necessary for those students who see school as torturous already.
posted by hellogoodbye at 11:14 AM on April 23, 2009

Response by poster: ROU_Xenophobe: I see your point. I had in mind sort of a hybrid between your Columns A and B, but more like your Column B. I was thinking of a somewhat longer break in the summer (say, 4 weeks) and 2- or 3-week breaks at other times in the year. I'd think that the breaks (longer and shorter) could be either staggered or fixed - in my mind I was envisioning fixed breaks but I can also see schools that stagger breaks to squeeze more kids into the buildings (my "pro" #3). Column C would be my personal preference as a goal for the future, but I'd think it would be an extra hard sell - to my way of thinking there seem to be some advantages to keeping the number of days at ~180 but moving to a year-round, Column B-like approach.

Thanks to everyone for the comments thus far. I'd thought in passing of including the capital costs of making sure schools in warm climates had air-conditioning, as well as the costs of higher teacher pay. I neglected to include those in my question, and I'm grateful for those answers (and the others as well). To jessamyn's point, I'll bet most teachers' unions have 10-month contracts in place - that would be a huge adjustment, as would the move away from a 10-month approach in general, as she rightly noted.

trip and a half's anecdote was interesting and I hope others who've attended schools on a year-round basis can chime in.
posted by cheapskatebay at 11:14 AM on April 23, 2009

I would suggest that more time in class is pointless.

I would suggest that you are correct. The most influential factor in any childs education is the quality of the teacher followed closely by whether their parents give a shit. Most grade school curriculums are designed well enough to educate the majority of students being taught. If teacher's and parents cant' make it happen, no amount of 'year around' will.
posted by repoman at 11:21 AM on April 23, 2009

Here's a summary article of some of the points listed as comments, with some 1990's references...and even a little blurb about 4 day weeks boosting achievement scores in Arkansas (for a time).
posted by hellogoodbye at 11:21 AM on April 23, 2009

Well, and it places a burden on families, too. Three shorter breaks instead of a long summer breaks means three separate times parents need to schedule child care, alternative arrangements, or vacation.
posted by mynameisluka at 11:23 AM on April 23, 2009

Three shorter breaks instead of a long summer breaks means three separate times parents need to schedule child care, alternative arrangements, or vacation.
Yeah, and I think that would place financial burdens on municipalities to find some way to provide child-care for parents who couldn't take off work and couldn't afford camps or other programs.

The difference between the U.S. and countries that have more longish school vacations is that the U.S. doesn't have guaranteed vacation time for grown-up workers. Parents in Germany or France are a lot more likely to be able to get time off from work when their kids aren't in school than parent in the U.S. are.
posted by craichead at 11:33 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

1. Year-round schooling seems to improve students’ retention of subject material, so that more classroom time can be spent learning new material.

School isn't really about stuffing heads with content. Who cares that they forget the capital of Maine while on break? School is about learning skills. Whether those skills are critical thinking or problem solving the skills are useless if they can only be used in a classroom. So why keep them in the classroom environment year round?

But a skill that is not appreciated enough today, especially in the US, is that of leisure. Kids spend weekends being shuffled from soccer to boy scouts to part time jobs. Summer is a small, sacred stretch of time where we let kids be kids and find pleasure in a world that is built to deny pleasure. There is plenty of time in life to be cooped up in an office.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:34 AM on April 23, 2009 [5 favorites]

It's not my sense that American kids are much more mentally healthy than their peers in other countries, and there does seem to be an academic cost.

Your equation is too small. Whatever system you're using for evaluating benefit has left out fun and happiness, which I would argue is just as important to quality of life as academics.
posted by Izner Myletze at 11:36 AM on April 23, 2009

School is about learning skills. Whether those skills are critical thinking or problem solving the skills are useless if they can only be used in a classroom. So why keep them in the classroom environment year round?
Because kids tend to forget some of those skills when they don't use them for three months at at time, and there are some important skills that kids tend not to use when left to their own devices. I hated math, so I didn't think about math all summer long, and then I had to relearn a lot of it each Fall. Kids absolutely need leisure time, but that's not an argument for the model of concentrating all their leisure time into one long block.
posted by craichead at 11:39 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Without the long summer break, I would have had nothing to live for as a child.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:41 AM on April 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

My elementary school went year-round multi-track when I was in 5th grade. Same number of school days, but the off days were more spread out. Each track had a staggered long break in place of summer vacation.

Because the red and green tracks were the ones with the summer vacations, most of the upper-middle class kids with the involved parents (PTA, volunteers, etc) ended up there. That was where all the good teachers were as well -- I assume they had enough influence to pick the more desirable tracks. Blue track became the ESL track. The first year, my mom put us in the blue track -- the long break was in the winter, so we could go back east to visit family for longer at the holidays. She also thought it would be good for us.

Turns out, 5th grade was my worst year of elementary school. The teacher was a joke (I was often correcting her grammar), and I spent most of the year playing "educational" games without any teacher supervision. My sister's 4th grade class was even worse. Friends in the other suboptimal track were regularly told they were stupid (these were bright GATE kids who later ended up at places like Stanford) -- that teacher was probably worse than mine.

It was so bad that my mom switched us to red track the next year, and my 6th grade teacher was probably one of the best in the district. 6th grade was probably my favorite year.

Even as a kid, I was able to pick up on the differences, and knew I was missing out educationally (and socially, though a few of my friends were also in my class).

Now, this obviously isn't a problem that is inherent in a year round, multi track system -- the problems came from the way our district implemented it and allowed it to be manipulated by the parents. Parents with the time are always going to try to influence which classes their kids are in, but I feel like the system I was in really lent itself to that and led to even bigger quality gaps than you would normally see.

Plus, I was really upset when all the other tracks got a week off after the '94 Northridge quake because I was already on vacation then. I felt cheated.
posted by natabat at 11:42 AM on April 23, 2009

School for me meant: hours of excruciating boredom, being told by teachers that I wasn't allowed to learn this or that because I was too young, learning almost nothing, being picked on constantly for being a "brain", being utterly miserable with the lack of freedom, dreaming about all the wonderful things I would do if I had the time.

Summer was: hours of glorious freedom, days and days to run around outside (playing in the yard as a little child, taking long bike rides and drawing in fields as a teenager), staying in my family's 1-room cabin in the woods in Maine, learning to swim and hike and sail, reading books for hours and hours... When I was elementary-school age, taking the time to learn ASL, and to get my ham radio license, taking vacations with my family to learn about the history of my country, staying with my grandparents, taking nature hikes with my mom and learning about tadpoles and pine cones and whatever else we found... When I was middle- and high-school age, having a respite from the totally unnatural (and insufficient) sleep schedule school forced me to have, 6-week intensive music programs that changed my life, time to work in a physics lab with people who would teach me as much as I wanted to know and answer all my questions, which also changed my life, time to be on my own with my friends and enjoy sitting in the sun down town having a smoothie without a list of responsibilities hanging over my head, playing in summer orchestras, learning math online whenever I felt like it...

So clearly I could go on and on, and I'm absolutely aware that my experience is not the same as everyone else's, but even now (I'm 23), a little voice in my head just screams NO! YOU CAN'T TAKE SUMMER AWAY FROM ME! at the thought of year-round schooling.
posted by Cygnet at 11:44 AM on April 23, 2009 [9 favorites]

Childcare and summer camps will be the bane of this concept. And if they aren't, you'll be seing more kids rasing themselves and having increased oportunity to get into trouble during the breaks since they may not be able to be supervised by a guardian.

In the current environment, children who have two parents that work, go to extrodinary lengths to make sure their kids either have an activity to do (summer camp), or that there is a parent at home with them. Break up the school year so that summer camps cannot function profitably (limiting to 4 weeks of operation prevents staff from being able to realistically accept a job that disappears just as it starts.), and parents loose that as a resource.

Now swing the other way, parents now need to find 4 weeks of activities for their kids at other times during the year. Yay for Christmas and Hanukkah but now families must find child care for the entire period they are off... That's fine, unless both parents actually need to keep their job.

Now lets layer on here older kids with summer jobs. Some kids have to work to pay for college - now instead they have only 4 weeks of employment, and/or they have to work while they go to school... Now what's more important: paying for your future education or getting the education that you are currently in? So, does johnny sacrifice his current grades to work to pay for school which he may not be able to get in because he has sacrificed his grades? Its a conundrum...

Last, lets talk about "applied elementary school". They need to experience new things. They need to have time to be kids. Kids need to forget stuff - its almost as important as learning new things. What we forget, we either relearn as needed - an important life skill, or we learn to accept and prioritize re-learing said skill or fact at a lower level. Summer vacation is the quintessential "I discovered it while sitting on the toilet" event.

Anyway... back to work... I'm not on summer vacation.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:59 AM on April 23, 2009

I'll put another log on the fire....Most students are involved in extra-curricular activities through the school district. Having students on different tracks wreaks havoc on these activities. I teach High school band, and I can't imagine getting my band ready for a contest when 1/2 or 1/4 of my students are on break, and the other students are in school. There is one district in my city that has year round school, and the band director's, and I'm sure other extra-curricular activities, are asking students to come in during their "break" so they can work together to get ready for some event. Surely that is a dedicated student that would give up their "intercession" to participate, but the student should not have to make that choice. If that keeps is something that is happening, then you probably have some students who have NO time off.
posted by snoelle at 12:22 PM on April 23, 2009

Because going to school year round and working year round is just astupid idea that most people realize is not the point of life.

I am thinking of how badly a Swedish person would kill this suggestion.
posted by tarvuz at 12:30 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised noone has brought up the fact that many students take remedial courses during the summer. It would be a large number of people held back, which as I understand it is occasionally necessary but undesirable due to maturity gaps that can happen.

Plus, I loved summer camp. I will not lie. Best ten summers of my life.
posted by politikitty at 1:21 PM on April 23, 2009

In our city we have several elementary and middle schools that are year round. They are magnet programs, meaning parents choose to send their kids there through a lottery system. They are model B above--the same number of days of school a year, just a 3 week break after each quarter and a slightly longer (5 week) break after the 4th quarter. It's worked out so that their spring 3 week break includes the week that the other kids in the system have spring break, and other nice things like that.

The local after-school programs (at the schools, the Y, non-profits, etc) have adapted to provide day camp during their breaks, but many of the kids spend the 3 weeks at home having fun as far as I can tell. I have a friend who teaches middle school math at one of the schools, after having taught at a regular schedule school for several years, and just loves it. She is in the process of getting her Master's and has not run into any difficulty with that.

The main con I see would be missing out on summer camps and other programs, but many kids in my city never had those options anyway.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:22 PM on April 23, 2009

2. The boredom some students experience over a lengthy summer vacation can be ameliorated.

You're suggesting school as a solution to boredom? I vehemently disagree.

Perhaps I am too old to accurately remember, but my recollection is that the vast majority of students find school horribly boring, look forward to summer vacation with greater zest than adults could possibly imagine and dread the return of school like the plague.

Children need unstructured time to play. Lots and lots of it.


After reading up quite a bit on unschooling and unstructured schooling like the Summerhill School, I've realized that the meaningful work of my childhood--and the meaningful work of my life, has been in the things I do in my unstructured time--learning instruments, drawing, writing, reading, walking in the woods, cooking. Each of these is much more edifying and rewarding than school ever was. In school, I was bored, but not allowed to ameliorate my boredom. During summers, I'd get bored, but then, I'd do something about it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:39 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I went to a year-round school, and I really liked it. I can't quite remember which year it started (I went to the same school K-12) but it was after 8th or 9th grade, so I did quite a few years year-round. I seem to remember mild controversy at the time, but I went to a small laboratory school on a university campus (I think my graduating class was about 50 students), so our parents kind of expected the school to do strange things.

As someone pointed out upthread, "year-round school" can mean a lot of different things, and I think a lot of people are reacting negatively at the concept of "always being in school" when my year-round wasn't like that. For us, it just meant that our school year was broken down into chunks. If you look at the current academic calendar of my old high school, you'll see that students were in class for 180 days, which according to this random link, is about average. We went to school for around 11 weeks, then had 3 weeks off, then in the summer had a longer break (5 weeks).

I worked during the break weeks, which suited me perfectly because I could earn a bit of money in between the sessions, and still feel like I had a "proper" summer break. I liked the "rest" period, and I liked knowing that I only had to go for 5 more weeks then I'd get a break (rather than god knows how long). I'm a big fan of smaller chunks of work and more rest periods, so year-round was ideal for me.
posted by ukdanae at 2:16 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Bart : Aw, I'm going to miss the whole summer.
Homer : Don't worry, boy. When you get a job like me, you'll miss every summer.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:19 PM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I think about the best times of my life, I would have to put summer vacations waaaay up there. I am deeply repulsed by the notion of keeping kids in school during the summer...
posted by xammerboy at 2:29 PM on April 23, 2009

As a kid, I spent at least half of every summer from after first grade until the summer after senior year (when I worked) at some kind of summer program, first at a program in my district for gifted kids and then at a residential program at Duke. I tended to get bored with summer eventually, but having that time to make my own schedule and just live the way I wanted to was fantastic. Kids will mostly all grow up to have jobs that keep them cooped up all day, all year. Why start them early?
posted by MadamM at 2:42 PM on April 23, 2009

Everyone taking vacations throughout the year whenever they want would result in some kids falling behind a week and having to catch up. With the summer off a lot of families take vacations then.

Summer camp! Builds character, exposes kids to new activities, teaches kids to swim well. I know I definitely came out of a quiet-shy shell by going to camp. Without it I would've still possibly burst out in tears for no reason whenever someone said "hey Kate!"

Summer programs for high school kids. They help a lot of kids get into a good college, get experience in a field they think they're interested in.

Summer jobs for older kids.

A lot of families in America DO live on farms and help out and learn to landscape or whatever during the summer. This way they can get a job during the summer while in college.

Kids just need time off. It'd be so cruel to say to kids, "OK, no more beach fun, no more water gun fights, work on your HW this beautiful summer weekend!" Kids just need to ride bikes and dig up worms and draw with chalk and go swimming without having to do their HW first.

Less people would want to teach if they had to work year-round. Where would schools get $$ to pay them more?? It's hard enough to find good teachers as it is.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 3:05 PM on April 23, 2009

Think of how expensive it would be to switch to year-round schooling- to pay all the employees (many of whom are unionized, and what a battle that would be), to keep the buildings open and cool during the hot months, to buy all the extra stuff you'd need to keep things going. Who has that kind of cash these days?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:24 PM on April 23, 2009

1. Adults decide these things.

2. Children would hate the idea.

3. Adults were children once, and if they retain anything at all from the experience, it is that they too would have hated the idea.

4. Adults find the idea of taking a decision that they would once have regarded as despicable kind of discomfiting. Not a non-starter, maybe, but pretty hard to swallow.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:25 PM on April 23, 2009

My daughter attends an elementary school that changed to an extended school year, with 3 intercession weeks spread throughout the year. This wouldn't be as much of a problem except that my son attends a middle school with the tradition schedule. The elementary is the second school in the entire district to adopt the extended schedule on an experimental basis. Since the two schedules aren't in agreement, I've noticed no benefits for our family or others in the same situation. The only difference for me this year is that I can pay the school $50 for the week of "fun classes," which even include entire mornings or afternoons of video gaming or movie watching as well as some reasonable things like beginning quilting or other arts/crafts, or I can find someone to watch her for the week. Either way, I'm out at least an extra $150 for the school year that I feel I could use for some other productive, fun, or educational activities for her.

I'd probably feel differently if the entire school district used the same schedule.

I tend to adjust my work schedule in the summers, as I work part-time anyway and there are fewer hours available at my work in the summer. My kids also spend a large part of the summers with their dad, too. I agree that getting outside, swimming, and running around is good for kids. We're also going to be working in a community garden.
posted by lilywing13 at 3:44 PM on April 23, 2009

While the farmer thing may not be why they made summers vacation time in the first place, it does have a role now. Migrant workers often find work in the summers, and take their families with them. Growing up, my school started really early compared to most (like mid-August), and kids of migrant workers often had the problem of starting school late every year because their families were still working in August.

I probably would have hated year round school, and I would never put my kids in one because I think having a good chunk of free time to put them in camp, programs, and go on interesting trips will be more beneficial than spending more time in class.
posted by fructose at 3:53 PM on April 23, 2009

The big benefit to year-round schools (besides the higher building usage) really accrues to kids who aren't doing well and/or are from families with fewer resources.

First, there's the lack of "summer loss", which is much higher in low-achieving/low-SES kids than in middle class kids. A lot of people are (predictably) trotting out arts camps, science camps, enrichment, or just free time spent wandering. This of course does not apply if you have to stay in every day (parents at work, too sketchy outside) and do nothing but watch TV.

Second, after each 9-week quarter, many schools hold short remediation sessions. This allows them to catch kids who are falling behind more quickly and bring them up to speed when it's only a matter of a few weeks, not the accumulation of an entire year's worth of slippage.

Incidentally, my area has a large percentage of year-round schools and the camps have totally adapted. Think about it - most summer enrichment day camps were 1 or 2 weeks, not 8 - that's perfect for your off-track times. And the people running the camps seem to love it - now they can make money all year round. I use the word camps to mean the day-camp programs many middle-class kids of working parents spend a lot of the summer in, but even some sleep-away camps are adapting.
posted by clerestory at 4:55 PM on April 23, 2009

Honestly? No Child Left Behind is a great reason to NOT have school year-round in this country. The Act has made it very difficult for teachers to teach, because they spend so much time teaching toward the tests, and they must meet and exceed academic content standards. It's an exhausting job for which they already get paid very little, not to mention the part of dealing with children all day long, all year long. We do not consider education to be that much of a priority in this country, otherwise we would pay our teachers much, MUCH more, and we certainly would have a different way of measuring achievement, without threatening termination of staff or shutting down schools. I live and work in education non-profit in a very impoverished urban school district where teachers are regularly losing their jobs because students aren't doing well on the tests, likely because there are 35+ kids to a classroom, not enough books or aides, and unstable family homes that result in low attendance. We do our best to help supplement materials, time, and energy, but it is very tough on a non-profit budget.

Plus I never got bored during the summer when I was a kid. Beach, pool, kick the can, board games, capture the flag, hide and seek, museums, libraries, camping, camp, books...I had a ball and wish I had my summers back to do just that. ;)
posted by cachondeo45 at 5:13 PM on April 23, 2009

I am almost 50 and still the beauty of fall can be dampened by residual back-to-school nausea hidden in the back of my brain. As a child Sunday was almost worthless because it was just the day before Monday. For many many people school was just a prison and the dream of getting out was what kept us going. Just the suggestion of year-round schools makes me feel awful inside.
posted by InkaLomax at 6:26 PM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's inertia. All the arguments about summer camps would have to change, that's they way people are already organised, etc, are other ways of saying inertia. I mean, seriously? Your kids don't have any real stretch of holidays for NINE MONTHS AT A TIME?! Holy crap, no wonder it feels like prison. Maybe it wouldn't feel so much like a prison if you got a couple weeks break every few months, like Australian students do. And somehow we still get an awesome 'summer break' with only six weeks off school.
posted by jacalata at 7:11 PM on April 23, 2009

I believe I read that part of Obama's education plan is to lengthen the school year, I assume in the summertime. I don't know if that will happen, but it seems logical that if the U.S. goes year round --and I agree it should -- it will only be changed very, very gradually. If you think about it, most aspects of American life are built around the school schedule as it is, and changing that drastically and/or abruptly will cascade those changes out and up and over in God knows how many directions. Give it 50 years (more? less?)
posted by zardoz at 12:06 AM on April 24, 2009

Roughly 75% of the time I spent in K-12 education was just plain wasted. From the 3 hours a day spent getting to/from school, to the completely incompetent teachers in many of the classes .... it was basically glorified babysitting. Some years I learned more in summer camp (mine had classes).

If they can make sure the nine month regular school year is worthwhile, I'd support extending it to twelve months.
posted by miyabo at 10:13 PM on April 25, 2009

I'm not sure of how the Australian highschool system works, but I'm a big fan of the university year. 13 week semester + 3 weeks of exams + 3 'swot vac' study days + 1 week break * 2 = 4 months summer holidays, and ~1 month winter break. It's great. I suppose I could be getting my degree quicker by cramming more in, but those 13 week semesters are so intense, you need a good break to recover.

I did a US Style school year for my elementary and highschool, and I agree, summer is when we lived! (School was in the southern hemisphere though, so the 'summer break' was actually winter. The key here isn't weather, it's FREEDOM.)
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