The case for year-round schooling
TheStar.com – Opinion – The case for year-round schooling
July 14, 2008. Martin Davey
Two weeks into the school vacation and many parents see a long hot summer stretching out in front of them, beset by cranky kids and teenage tantrums.
For some, a shorter break seems a much better idea and it turns out that education researchers agree.
Experts cite “summer learning loss” as a major problem for North American students, compared with their peers in countries with year-round schooling.
Recent studies suggest that, when fall comes around, teachers waste weeks reviewing last year’s work because our kids forgot what they learned in the spring.
Summer learning loss also widens the gap between rich and poor children because disadvantaged kids are less likely to have books at home to help maintain skills and knowledge.
Shockingly though, even for the average child, the whole first month of school is wasted relearning last year’s material. Researchers at the Canadian Council on Learning last month released the findings of a review of 39 studies, including Canadian reports, on summer learning loss. They found the drop in standardized test scores achieved in the fall compared to those in the spring equated to the loss of a month’s instruction.
When experts look particularly at math, the picture is even worse. Researchers at the John Hopkins University School of Education studied the drop-off in students’ mathematical computation skills. The results show a mean loss of approximately 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency. That means students performed, in September, as if they had missed a quarter of the previous school year.
As an Ontario middle-school teacher I’m convinced the underperformance may be far worse than even these shocking reports suggest.
It’s a struggle to keep kids engaged from as early as mid-May. Behaviour takes a nosedive and even the most diligent students lose focus.
Add the six weeks from mid-May to the end of June to the two-month summer break itself and the math 2.6 months “summer learning loss” and you’ll find that some kids are effectively “out to lunch” in a major subject for six months every calendar year. Yikes.
Britain, New Zealand and Australia have year-round schooling. In New Zealand, for instance, the year has four 10-week terms divided by three two-week end-of-term vacations and a shorter summer break.
Having taught for three years in New Zealand, I know the six weeks of “temporary insanity” suffered by some Ontario school kids before year-end does not exist. Of course, kids get excited about the summer break but we’re talking a week of high spirits, not months of madness.
Year-round schooling does exist in Ontario. The Toronto public school board has schools such as the Etobicoke Year-Round Alternative Centre that caters to struggling Grade 9 and 10 students. The Durham and York boards have several year-round schools and the Peel District School Board has one at Roberta Bondar Public School, now about to begin its fourth year.
The Roberta Bondar calendar closely mirrors New Zealand’s in having two-week vacations in October and March, a one-week holiday in February and three weeks at Christmas, leaving one month for the summer break.
Roberta Bondar principal Joan Hamilton is convinced the system is better; students focus better all year round and don’t lose ground in the summer.
“Students are not away so long that they forget what they learned in the previous year. We come back after a four-week break and get right down to work without the need for a lot of review,” she says.
Still, Ontario-wide, only about 2,000 of the province’s 2 million students attend year-round classes.
In an increasingly competitive world, it’s time we gave our children every advantage and it’s clear that means year-round schooling.
Besides, would it really seem so bad right now if our teens were due back at school in two weeks?
Martin Davey is an Ontario teacher, parent and freelance writer.