The Irascible ProfessorSM


Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.".... ...William Butler Yeats

Commentary of the Day - July 13, 2001:  Imagine Year-Round Schools.  Guest Commentary by Beverly Carol Lucey

Restless students might grumble, "I don't think so..."

Exhausted teachers might react with a whimper of, "Oh, no.  How could I do more?"

Working parents might think, "Could be a solution to all my day care problems."

Government officials who know little of educational theory might assume, "Good.  More time in school will automatically increase test scores."

Taxpayers (all of the above, with the exception of the students) will wonder, "But where would the money come from?"
 

THE CURRENT CONVERSATION

Most school years entail 180 days for students.

Much talk has been spent on

1. extending that school year

2. extending the school day

3. the need for remediation and summer school

4. inability of students to retain competency over the long summer break
 

SO HARD TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

What about considering HOW we structure those 180 days?

What if we think of new ways to use the already legislated time?

What if we are not talking about those overcrowded schools that already use a year round schedule to stagger the semesters?  That is merely a stopgap measure.  It affects the school community, student friendships, and causes havoc among families with children attending different schools.

What if we are not talking about doing more of the same old thing... if the same old thing is not working well?
 

A PARTICULAR VISION OF YEAR ROUND SCHOOLS

Four 9-10 week marking periods would make up the official school year, allowing for calendar mandated holidays, to total the present 180 day school year.

Separating each quarter would be a two to three week break.

Summer vacation would be slightly longer than three weeks, depending on whatever extra days were not needed to make up for the unexpected (blizzard, power failures, hurricanes, etc.)
 

ENRICHMENT AND REMEDIATION

Part of this vision sees the schools as a community resource that would be open all year.

Students who do not achieve their learning goals during the regular sessions, would be able to get special tutoring during the three week breaks.  They would be able to keep up with their peers so much more easily.

Students with special interests would be able to find enrichment opportunities and mini-courses during the three week breaks.

Sports, music, drama, art studio, and other workshops would be available.  Science projects could be ongoing.  Computer labs and the school library would be supervised whenever the schools were open.  Special activities, performances, and theme programs could be available.

Workshops in test taking skills could/should be held for some students.

Students still would be able to vacation with families or to attend camp, with more flexibility than they have now.

Senior citizen volunteers could provide an enormous contribution during these three week sessions, and students would not be pulled out of regular classes for special tutoring.  Many mentoring relationships could be fostered during this time.

Teacher workshops and professional development would be done during this time, not at the end of full teaching days.

Standardized testing would be done during this time, not during teaching time.
 

WHAT PEOPLE DON'T REALIZE ABOUT THE 180 DAY SCHOOL YEAR

I believe the public would be horrified to find out how many intrusions prevent the classroom teacher from real time on task and time on learning new material and exploring new ideas.

A teacher plans a test?  A fire drill interrupts it.

A teacher is in the middle of a lesson?  Someone knocks on the door for one of a thousand reasons (parent outside, student sent in from another class for discipline, administrator has a question, main office needs a piece of paperwork, student being dismissed is asking for assignments, student is late....it's endless).

A teacher plans a three day project?  An assembly is called.

A teacher finds out at the last minute that half the class is going on a field trip, or has an extended band rehearsal, or is being excused early because of a sporting event.

Pep rallies are held for upcoming standardized testing.  Days, sometimes weeks of class time is spent practicing solely for standardized tests, at the expense of interactive learning, questioning, projects.  Hours and hours of filling in bubble sheets are not hours spent learning.

These intrusions range from loud speaker announcements at unpredictable times to pull out programs that prevent an entire class learning material that a teacher is presenting.

The accommodations that a regular classroom teacher must make during the course of a day should be solely for the student's benefit.  Not for the office, not for the administration, not for the guidance counselor, not for the fund raising company representatives, not for photographers, and not for eye, ear, and posture exams.
 

SUMMARY

We should commit to the following ideas:

1. That classroom time is for class work, and an activity period should be part of every school day.

2. That our allotted 180 school days can be restructured in a much more efficient and realistic way.

3. And yes, you would have to increase the per diem salary of teachers who opt to or must work during some of those interim weeks.

For further reading on this topic try:

National Association for Year Round Schooling
All Learning, All The Time
_____________________________________
Beverly Carol Lucey is a freelance writer from Georgia.  Before moving to Georgia Ms. Lucey taught high school in Massachusetts for 30 years.  She now teaches in the teacher preparation program at Agnes Scott College.

The Irascible Professor comments:  Beverly's vision for year-round schooling is interesting.  The school year in the United States is shorter than in many industrialized countries.  However, as Ms. Lucey has noted, the effective school year in the U.S. is much shorter than 180 days because of all the interruptions.  Perhaps her plan would allow the schools to reserve the 180 days for fundamental academic instruction, while placing the "other stuff" in the breaks.  Hmm.  That might encourage folks to look closely at the "other stuff".

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