Year-Round Schooling for the 21st Century: We Can’t Afford to Waste Summers

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

At this time of year I always wonder at our slavish adherence to an agrarian schedule for schools. Million dollar plants are closed for the summer. Well, not completely. We often have the athletic departments active with team sports.

Staff, from teachers to principals, find summer jobs. I once had a principal who had a summer company to paint houses. He hired his male teachers, and they had a good business. Some of his teachers made more on their summer jobs than they did teaching.

We know that students lose much of what they have learned during this down time and that much of the first two months of the fall semester is spent relearning what they have lost.

If Walmart and others can serve their customers 24 hours a day year round, why do schools continue to tie themselves into a rigid and ill-conceived obsolete schedule?

What if we had a year-round, open schedule school system designed for modern families? For example, the schedule follows the family’s schedule. The students are in school from 8 to 5 each day or from 10 to 6 or even assigned as it fits their individual learning plan (ILP). The school is open from 7 in the morning to 7 in the evening. Students are assigned based upon their ILPs. Teaching staff schedules are also flexible in order to cover the entire day.

In this projected school system, there are traditional classes as well as virtual learning at home and at school through social media. All year long students engage in special learning experiences built around project based learning where learners, working in teams, experiment with such things as actually constructing a robot to serve disabled individuals.

There is a LEARNFLIX* library where students access video and text materials and projects developed by other teams.

All learners are assigned resources and times that are consistent with their ILPs. Assignments are relative to their plans. And both human and technological resources are available as needed.

In such a system, facilities and staff are more efficiently used. Learners are issued a smartcard that records their achievements and keeps a running up-to-date record of their learning progress.

A school system such as this is not too difficult to develop, and if universally accepted, student transfers from one school to another would be simplified. It is time to discard the rigid agrarian schedule that is destroying our schools. It is inefficient and wasteful to allow our learning factories to be closed during part of the year. A year-round, open schedule system would revitalize schooling and encourage continuous learning.

I envision such a system providing a blended education with traditional classes, product-based outcomes, and team learning.

Families can schedule vacations year round. If they are visiting places like Washington, D.C., students could be assigned to share their experiences with classmates when they return to school.

Authentic based assessments will provide students with a portfolio of their work.

We need to radically rethink our models for schools to take advantage of blended approaches using social media. Learning takes place year round, and we need to reorganize schools to meet our modern needs. I envision teams of very young learners working together to solve problems in a product-based approach.

We had a NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND movement based upon an outmoded model of education. Let us renew our programs with a NO MIND WASTED program that uses flexible schedules and social media to provide a high quality year-round learning experience for every child.

* Author’s note: I have been talking about a LearnFlix or LearnerFlix, but there is not one set up as yet. I have talked to some people about establishing such a service. The Caption Film Library under Bill Stark has been referred to as LearnFlix but there is no established system as yet.

6 Responses

  1. I’ll add one more comment. We’re not wasting summers until we’re using the rest of the year well. What we’re wasting is months of the regular school year on high-stakes tests, low-content lessons, and non-challenging classes.

    It’s a funny thing, but after a relaxing summer, I was always ready and even eager to get back to school. Year-round school would have made me very unhappy. I think it would cause greatly increased truancy.

    • A year round school would not make the mistakes of our current system. I envision times in the year where schools would be more like camping experiences or modified space camp experiments. Activities where teams of students work on science projects. I would not want a continuation of our current lecture classes. I envision a much more active program perhaps something like the scout merit badges.

    • My summers were never wasted in idleness as a teacher. I was in workshops, doing Fulbright Grants, in school getting professional development from the National Geographic or NASA. I worry that there is not always provided time for educators to refresh , review, reflect and rest. In some of the most challenging assignments that I had working in schools of need, I just needed a rest from the daily grind. I learned so much and profited in academic ways from outreach organizations not the local school system.

      But I do understand the mentality that most people have about teachers and the summer. Actually most school systems have plugged into the summer time span, so that it is harder to go to conferences, workshops, and do on going learning out of the school space, which is necessary for people who do not have a supportive, knowledgeable, interested or adaptive teaching situation.

      Children ‘s time should be organized in different ways, perhaps in informal learning or some extension of the areas of learning that are in the innovative space and which are denied by the fact that they are
      not a part of the testing procedure and given little weight.

      Bonnie Bracey Sutton

      • If I had the time I would fill in the things done just this summer.
        ISTE, though I am rethinking that organization as it has become a business and not a teacher run organization. Nevertheless the meeting provided contact and networking. I just came back from the CSTA conference in Irvine, Ca and that conference was an up close and personal conference, not a moving train and so there was significant , a set or new resources, and links, and ways of working , my next workshop will be with ESRI in San Diego. The problem with all of this is that it costs money, the good thing about it is that there are people in the organizations and or organizations that seek teacher participation and create advantages for teachers and learning communities. It was interesting to see at ISTE that it was not all the whiteboard push as it was in Philadelphia, but more the push for mobile technologies, BYOD and the policies that will be needed to be able to make that happen. THere was a workshop at the CSTA conference in which there was hands on application and demonstration , not just lecturing of what can happen with 4G.

        So with funding and teacher advocacy support there are ways for teachers to be a part of being agents for change.

  2. [comments out of order due to sign-on glitch — sorry]

    I understand these remarks and support the concept. However, I have to demur slightly due to my personal experiences. I grew up in a beach community. Spending time at beach (noon-5pm 7 days a week) during the summer was a crucial part of my social life. The one time that I took summer school, I was very anxious about the loss of that time.

    Curiously, those two summer school courses were the most valuable I took — typing and speed reading.

    I went to a particularly challenging college. They did not provide any summer courses of any sort. Their philosophy was that it took a few months for vast flood of material from the previous nine months to “sink in.” They were absolutely right. Physics problems I had trouble with my first year were easy for me as I helped the next year’s freshmen with their homework.

    I also skipped third grade in my school. I was attending third grade and, after a few weeks, was told on a Friday to report to a fourth-grade class the following Monday. I was given some cursive handwriting materials to practice. My first week was difficult because I hadn’t learned borrowing in subtraction and didn’t know the spelling words from the last week. But, by the next week, I was completely up to speed. You see, it took just one week to learn the entire third-grade curriculum as it related to knowledge required in fourth grade.

    Perhaps, we’re too gentle with our students. Why spend two months reviewing the last year’s materials. Do it in one week (as I had to) and move forward. Give me my days on the sand and in the surf.

  3. How is the school-year calendar determined in your school system? How is the length of the school day determined? Is student learning at the center of those decisions?

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