When I was attending public school growing up in a small South Texas city, I did so year-round. The scheduling different than most traditional public schools would require us to attend school during a calendar year from July to May. This would include one week breaks called "intersession" every six weeks throughout the year (including the winter break), and a six week vacation period during the summer.
The intersession breaks served dual purposes: to offer time off to regroup and to offer assistance to students who were needing additional help in certain subjects or classes. Growing up I really enjoyed the schedule because you knew you had an upcoming break but also had a chance to access a more focused session with your teacher in areas you were failing. Overall, the experience seemed very beneficial to me.
The year-round concept can be seen as a progressive stretch for some school systems, though, and currently is only seen in four percent of the K-12 population in the United States. Why is this?
What we know
The traditional schedule that you see in most public school systems yields a longer summer for students and teachers. Although it is a much needed break for both, studies have found that the longer students have away from the classroom, the more they fall into the "summer slide," which is when students find difficulty retaining skills and information from the previous year. Because of the difficulty students have, more time is needed by teachers to review in the classroom upon the fall semester.
Year-round schedules are offered up in three varieties: 45-15, 60-30, or 90-30 plans. This meaning that students attend school 45, 60, or 90 days at a time with 1-3 weeks of vacation following (depending on the plan). During the breaks off schools can opt to hold "mini-summer sessions" to help struggling students. This is most beneficial to students with special needs or learning disabilities as the classroom size typically is smaller and more guided one-on-one time can be provided, according to some studies.
The benefits for teachers is also something of value to year-round scheduling. Schools have seen less teacher turn-over because they are able to regroup when necessary and utilize their planning time more efficiently.
Furthermore, teachers find that the focus of the classroom is less on review and more time spent on learning new material. This has varying views on how it impacts test scores, but some educators have seen a slight improvement on student ability to grasp new concepts because of the added time they have in the classroom.
With all of the benefits to year-round scheduling, why is it that this plan is only implemented in 46 states and with only 3 million students following it?
Opponents to year-round scheduling say it is because it can lead to issues with scheduling outside of the classroom. Parents that become accustomed to the traditional schedule may see that the year-round plan allows them less time to plan for summer vacation, and do not like the lack of time given. Another factor is that students that have families that rely on them to work during their break may miss out on certain job opportunities that happen only during the long summer months. Additionally, students that want to attend college courses, outside extra-curricular activities, or summer camp may not be able to do so with the non-traditional nature of the scheduling. Lastly, some studies have shown that at times students that attend year-round schools may find it difficult to adapt to the more traditional scheduling that colleges and universities have in place.
What does it all mean
Traditional and year-round scheduling in public and private school districts are both prominent in the United States and both can have their own benefits and problems. As districts and schools adopt more progressive strategies in the future, it will be interesting to see how scheduling affects those initiatives.