Year-round schools vs. summer vacation
A Q&A with a University of Illinois education professor today contains some interesting thoughts about year-round education.
Turns out our nine-month school year wasn't created to accommodate farmers, but was a compromise worked out in the late 1800s by education reformer Horace Mann. According to Professor Carolyn Shields, children in rural schools used to attend classes six months a year, and urban schools were open year-round (though students didn't necessarily attend school for 12 months).
Shields is among those who think it's time to modernize our school calendar. She says reducing the long summer vacation, and distributing school days year-round, leads to less burnout for students and teachers, better attendance, reduced tension, fewer discipline problems and, hence, better learning. Teachers, she says, overwhelmingly favor year-round schools, especially for disadvantaged students who may not have access to camps or other enrichment activities during summer break.
Year-round schools are obviously popular with working parents, although they still have to find somewhere for their children to go during the intercessions scattered throughout the year.
I still love summer break. I'm a working parent, and we do our share of scrambling to find ways to keep our kids occupied during the summer.
But there's something about that mental break in June, when the weather is beautiful and all you want to do is be outside listening to the squeals of children playing in the sprinkler. Although my husband and I still have to go to work, it's such a relief not to worry about all of those school-year responsibilities -- nightly homework, monthly projects, PTA meetings, book fairs, activity nights, etc.
We still have crazy schedules, shuttling kids to and from camps and swimming and T-ball and baseball games. But the longer days give the illusion of more time, and the pace is somehow easier, the mood lighter. Plus, we take our family vacations in the summer.
I know Champaign's balanced-calendar schools still get a six-week summer break, and for many families that 's plenty. Maybe it would be for us, too. By mid-August I'm usually ready for my kids to get back into a structured routine.
But the summer already seems to fly by too quickly. My kids have realized that, contrary to their TV heroes "Phineas and Ferb," there are not 104 days of summer vacation, nor even three months. There are exactly 78 days, at least in the Champaign school district -- 79 if you count that last day of "school" where they went for an hour.
So, six days into our summer, I guess I vote for tradition. What do you think?