One suggestion for education reform has been to extend the school year. This sounds like a simple plan. If kids spend more time in school, they will receive more education. Well, I find myself somewhat in agreement with this idea, but there are a few considerations that might add a few layers of complication to this simple plan.
It has always been my belief that in the history of American public Education, our school calendar was adopted to accommodate the needs of farmers, so that they could have their children and children of others to work in fields right through harvest time. After the kids helped with the harvest, they could return to the rigors of the classroom. I was always appreciative of the sacrifice those farm kids made for me every summer. I was not a farmer’s kid, so I could hang out at the beach in the summer while they worked the fields an awaited the harvest.
The academic year that I am familiar with is one of four quarters, each being approximately ten weeks in length. That leaves about ten weeks of vacation, or farm work. This summertime has become a good, fun part of our culture. People plan family vacations around that time. Some kids use the time to earn money. The best festivals and fairs are planned in this time period. This is usually the time of year that families experiment with always popular family driving vacation. All of this would be sacrificed with a year round academic schedule.
The second drawback in extending the schedule would be in the area of monetary compensation. It is not reasonable to assume that we can increase anyone’s work schedule by twenty percent and not expect to increase their compensation. That does not only affect teachers and administrators, but also additional secretaries, aides, cafeteria folks, janitors, bus drivers, grounds people and various other support personnel.
To me however, there is a more obvious objection to extending the academic calendar by ten weeks. If we are being, at best, questionably successful with our students, how would spending more time of doing the same thing improve learning? That age-old question: Why would you expect different results if you continue to do the same thing over and over?
Even with all of these considerations, there are schools providing successful learning experiences over the summer weeks. For a few decades now my school district has had a summer program of enrichment for kids. It offered teachers the ability to develop courses to engage kids for learning and not grades. Innovation is promoted and supported for teachers and students. It focuses on the elementary level. Teachers develop the courses that they plan to teach. Students and their parents select courses based on interest. There are also courses of remediation, but that is not the focus. The schedule is based on three periods a day. This allows kids to explore more than one interest.
Compensation is less of an issue since it is a voluntary program with an agreed upon hourly rate for those who choose to join the program. Attendance is not mandatory, so kids can be removed for family vacations. Grades are removed to promote the learning in a stress-free environment. Teachers can innovate and teach to their strengths. Kids can be grouped according to interests with little regard to age grouping. At the halfway point in the program Parents are brought into the class to share in the projects.
If programs like this were enacted on a large-scale across our country, we would be able to engage kids year round and promote learning. It would also allow teachers to innovate with lessons that may be incorporated in their other academic endeavors. It allows kids to explore subjects in a way that the rigors of other academic programs do not allow. Promotion and support of more elementary programs like this might reduce the remediation classes required for the secondary level kids during the same time in the summer. The only issue left would be: How do we involve all of those kids in the fields?