Year-round education: Is summer vacation over... forever?

More and more U.S. schools are moving to a year-round class schedule. Is this controversial approach really the best way to boost achievement?

Up to 10 percent of American kids could say goodbye to summer vacation by 2012.
(Image credit: Corbis)

More than 2.5 million U.S. school kids have lost their summer vacation, as their school districts opt for a "balanced schedule" (also called year-round education, or YRE). Meanwhile, education experts are estimating that the ranks of summerless kids will rise to 5 million, or 10 percent of public schoolchildren, by 2012. What does YRE mean for students, and why get rid of such a longstanding American tradition? (Watch a report about schools going year-round)

How does year-round schooling work?

Though the approach varies from district to district, the year is usually broken up into 8- to 10-week school periods, split up by breaks of three to five weeks. School Superintendent Eugene White in Indianapolis, which (like Houston) is considering a switch to YRE, says the new schedule would add 20 school days to each year.

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Is this a new idea?

Not really. Dartmouth economics professor William A. Fischel says 19th century American students frequently attended school in June, July, and August. And Newark, N.J., adopted a year-round schedule as far back as 1912. Chicago moved to YRE a few years ago.

What's wrong with summer vacation?

Basically, YRE proponents say, students forget too much of what they learned over the traditional 12-week break. It takes six weeks for the kids to get back to where they left off, says Indianapolis 4th Grade teacher Margaret Silk. And poorer kids and those who speak English as a second language face a bigger challenge. "Put another way," says Alex Johnson at MSNBC, "well-off children — those with access to tutoring and academic camps and travel — keep learning when school's out for the summer, while those without such advantages tread water or even sink."

Who thinks this is a good idea?

For starters, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who pushed through year-round school when he was Chicago schools chief, and his boss, President Obama. A growing number of school administrators, reformers, and scholars are excited about YRE, too.

Who's opposing it?

A majority of students and their parents. According to a typical July, 2009 poll from Rasmussen, 63 percent of adults opposed year-round schooling while only 31 percent supported it. Why? In the same poll, 71 percent of adults (not just parents) said kids learn valuable lessons in the summer break by working, pursuing athletics, or attending camp. Also, YRE is more expensive. A St. Louis, Mo.,-area school district recently announced it was ditching year-round education to achieve a $1 million budget cut, including $750,000 in transportation.

Is there any proof YRE works?

Some. In Margaret Silk's Indianapolis grade school, which already operates year-round, 70 percent of students from low-income families pass their Indiana assessment tests, higher than the state average. And, according to a 2007 report by John Hopkins researchers, wealthier kids benefited from a more academically focused summer vacation, gaining the equivalent of 47 points on a standardized reading test over the holiday months, versus a 4.5-point gain for middle-income kids and 1.9-point loss for poor students. Still, as Colter, Wyo., teacher and school board adviser Annie Sampson notes, "It seems like more often than not the districts try it on a balanced calendar and then they go back to the traditional."

Sources: MSNBC,, Jackson Hole News & Guide

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