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Thursday
Jun122008

Would AC improve student performance?

The three best reasons to be a teacher - June, July and August.

School's out for the summer here in our district. The halls are quiet. Male administrators are wearing golf shirts instead of ties. Parking spots are easy to find. Tuck pointing and blacktop resurfacing is going full bore. All the signs of summer are upon us.

There is the stray teacher wandering the halls looking for a curriculum writing group and soon a few  summer school students will be slinking in. But this week, it's quiet. Too quiet.

And our kids are all home diligently forgetting everything they learned over the past nine months. Bored.  Playing Grand Theft Auto. Watching Jackass. Getting pregnant.

Year-round school seems like a no-brainer to me. This is how Saudi ARAMCO's year-round school year operated (operates?) when I taught there in the 80's:

  • September, October, November - regular school days 
  • December - intersession or vacation
  • January, February, March - regular school days 
  • April - intersession or vacation
  • May, June, July - regular school days 
  • August - intersession or vacation

Teachers got a one-month (actually 5-week) block off during each school year - either in December, April or August - as best fit company needs. Most families had a similar vacation schedule. While a third of the students and teachers vacationed, the rest of the school participated in "intersession." (I did not feel deprived having but a month off and found that vacationing in April was fantastic - cooler weather and no crowds in much of the world.)

I loved intersession. The mornings were devoted to helping kids who fell behind during the previous three months get caught up. The afternoons were given over to informal learning - crafts, games, hobbies, sports and other ways of learning that were more social and fun than the regular classroom. My favorite intersession offerings were Learning Logo, Myths and Legends of Many Lands, and bowling. It was great getting to know kids in a less structured setting.

Pretty easy to see the advantages of such a school calendar. Of course kids here in Minnesota are needed on the farm during the summer to help Dad put up hay and can tomatoes with Mom. Yeah, right.

Yes, our schools lack air conditioning. It's unlikely the state is willing to pop for two more months of salary for teachers. Some kids and employers would be inconvenienced by such a calendar.

But isn't the real reason we don't have year-round school simply tradition?

Schools are about maintaining traditions and norms, not about changing them.

Too bad for a lot of kids who could use year-round schools. And a lot of teachers who would like to be considered full time employees.

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Reader Comments (10)

If I hadn't posted my thoughts on this to your blog, I think I may have to Dr. Scott McLeod's under the concept of change.

Think about it... The one piece of change that we have failed to implement systemically is working in a calendar that supports the needs of students, the community and learning.

We cannot get off the 9 month calendar - even in the face of every fiber of a reasonable person's being realizing that the 9 month calendar is harmful to our mission.

For those people that believe a widespread educational reform is right down the road a few miles, this notion of not even being able to change a calendar should provide supporting evidence that schools will not change on a dime.

June 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJoel

I loved teaching on a year round calendar. We still had 180s, just spread out a bit more. I certainly think I felt more refreshed with the breaks more spread out, and actually and certain I ended up working more because I might pop in a bit during each break to the building. Our students had longer opportunities to use our materials, too, because we allowed students to keep their library books to read while we were on break. We found that either people really liked the schedule or really hated it. Most of our kids that moved to the year round calendar did not move back to the traditional calendar. While I love my current position, every end of September I sometimes get that longing for the year round calendar. But, it looks unlikely that I'll get that opportunity again.

June 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Harvey

II just got through the other day lamenting in my blog that I no longer seem to fit any part of the traditional school. http://technotuesday.edublogs.org/2008/06/08/what-am-i/
Whiney, I know, and filled with self-pity. But for all my growth in learning and being up on many facets of 21st Century learning, I have just made myself basically unqualified for jobs in the southeast. They WANT traditionalists who will not stretch their concept of learning and won't questions such things as a "traditional" calendar, even though MUCH of the southeast has A/C standard in every building.

June 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Nelson

I agree the 9 month calendar needs to be abandoned. The rest of the world seems to recognize that our students aren't needed to hoe bean and corn fields while tending to the swine all summer. Two main obstacles exist to this change in our society:

1. Athletics: The overemphasis of sports places prime time on Summer training and camps which are huge money makers for coaches.

2. Teachers Unions: Good luck with that one.

But I think the rise of two parent homes where both spouses work is producing more and more demand for year round school. The last grades school I worked out started a Summer Academy which after three years fills up within one week.

It's time to change that's for sure.

June 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie A. Roy

How is it that the US ended up with June, July, August and we in Canada have only July, August? As I am currently envious of the time outdoors, I'd love to be in your shoes, however, I also like the Saudi school arrangement. We certainly need to start to think about changing things. Even with it just being two months there is plenty of forgetting time.

June 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

I agree whole-heartedly, Doug. I think year-round school makes all sorts of sense. You have often wrote about how our classrooms don't look much different than they did 100 years ago - and neither does our calendar.We are holding onto a school calendar based on an agrarian society's expectations.

In two weeks or so, Minnesota will release test results in which the expectations for student success are exponentially higher than 15 years ago, let alone 100 years ago. However, our classrooms, pedagogy, and calendar remain largely unchanged. We will be hammered for "less than adequate results." Struggling students will wander in for abbreviated learning experiences designed to ratchet up their abilities (summer school.) It makes much more sense to follow a calendar similar to the one you described. The roadblock, yet again, will be the political will of our legislature.

Great post, Doug. Thanks for using your influence to discuss a topic many people don't want to talk about.

June 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Hillmann

This topic has been on my mind a lot the last few weeks as I watched the teaching staff at my school get more and more burned out and the students get more and more restless. It seems to me that the biggest reason we need to change this calendar is that with the current 9 month system we are pushing everyone too hard. A month break between trimesters would do everyone a world of good. It wouldn't be like we are giving up any more time, we would just be distributing the "time off" in a way that make better biological and psychological sense.

Also, why is it that many high schools start before 8am in the morning when studies show adolescents need more sleep and are more productive starting later in the day?

June 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Anderson

Great post! There is a scene in Doctor Zhivago, after he was captured and forced to serve with the Bolsheviks, where, in the midst of a heavy snowstorm, he simply stops his horse (he is at the rear) as the rest keep going, then simply turns his horse around and slowly goes in the opposite direction. I think that precisely is what is happening where I live. The city school population is shrinking quickly; charter schools are springing up all over; students are taking courses online; and many are in other districts (open enrollment). In other words, I see people slowly leaving for what they perceive as better opportunities. As I said in my blog, I weep for our collective lack of courage, political will, and intelligence. Just as we once destroyed the buffalo and our rail system, we are in the process of liquidating our school systems.

June 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSkip Olsen

I am a teacher in Ohio, and I acknowledge the premise that year-round school would mean less time spent reviewing concepts that are traditionally forgotten over the summer vacation. But that presupposes that learning can take place in a sweltering, humid classroom without air conditioning. Most homes have air conditioning in our district due to our brutal summer weather. Do we really expect students to be able to concentrate under such conditions? And who would foot the bill for air conditioning to make year-round schools successful? Certainly not our school system which is already struggling to remain solvent in a crippled economy. We can't even pass renewal levies! How do we bring in the revenue it would take to renovate our buildings for summer usage? These issues need to be addressed before teachers are going to rally around year-round school.

October 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTeacher World

Hi Teacher World,

I agree whole-heartedly about the need for air conditioning. The fact we don't have it now in many schools says how little society values both its children and its teachers.

Of course one could also argue that in many, much hotter, parts of the world, AC doesn't exist - even for administrators!

Thanks for the comment,

Doug

October 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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