Charter Schools, Time Off, And The Case For Year-Round School
Charter schools have been around for more than two decades now, locating in most of the 50 states throughout the US, and enrolling more than 2 million students, according to a recent article on NPR.
(These schools have the flexibility and freedom to reach students with more innovative approaches, provided they hit certain results, which are typically laid out by the charter itself.)
But a recent study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University has pointed to mixed results for these schools, showing some improvement for about one-third of students while also showing that, for the most part, kids in most charter schools are doing “worse or no better than students in traditional public schools.”
However, the study, which examined 26 of the 41 charter school states throughout the US, also showed some marked improvements over the last four years.
Gains among African-American, Latino, and English as Second Language (ESL) students have been particularly promising, and the one-third improvement itself is a considerable jump from how charter schools were performing four years ago. Considering traditional public education has several decades on charters, CREDO director Margaret Raymond was encouraged.
“The fact that we can show that significantly disadvantaged groups of students are doing substantially better in charter school in reading and math, that’s very exciting,” Raymond said in comments to NPR.
The primary reason for the improvement, in Raymond’s eyes, is time.
“The average charter school student in the United States is benefiting from additional days of learning, compared to where they were four years ago and compared to traditional public schools they otherwise would’ve attended,” Raymond said.
While CREDO used a composite traditional education student for the comparison instead of real time data, it’s not uncommon from how most of these educational studies are conducted, and thus cannot be dismissed so easily. And if what Raymond is endorsing as the reason for improvements is true, that could mean the school year is about to get longer, and that the school year SHOULD be longer.
Here are two big reasons why the US needs to move to a 365-day schedule instead of 180.
Educational atrophy can’t help but set in after a three-month break in the middle of the year. Generation after generation has looked at summer break as a reason to let loose, have fun, and forget about school for 90 days (or thereabouts). We conditioned ourselves to turn off our brains, watch a lot of daytime television, sneak off from the house and kill brain cells whenever and however we could.
Children today — and adults for that matter — can’t afford to turn off their brains for an extended period of time. LZ Granderson, a senior writer for ESPN and contributor to CNN, said it best in his New York Times Op-Ed:Problem is, when national problems start to occur in something like education, it doesn’t happen all at once. It occurs a little here and a little there. It may be easy for people in my generation — I’m 33 — to look at kids today and say, “What the heck happened to you people?” But the reality is, America has been dumbing down and falling behind for a long time, and it’s not a problem that can be blamed on any one generation or political party. We’ve all contributed, and continue to contribute by the way we vote and uphold institutions that aren’t working.
“I want my son’s brain to remain active, sharp not turned into goo because he’s playing basketball for five hours everyday in a rec center.
“No offense to the parents whose kids are playing basketball in a rec center right now. But we’re in a global economy.
“And the hunting grounds for a talented workforce are not restricted by our country’s border.”
And one last point on the topic of educational atrophy: it’s not something that just affects students. While teachers don’t really get “summers off” the way so many people think they do, summer can throw them off their game a bit. Eradicating summer breaks could very well improve the quality of instruction as long as it’s done right. And that brings us to our next point:
You Can Do It Without Sacrificing A Child’s Recreation Time
If you’re a student and you’ve made it this far, then you probably want to do one of two things: 1) Click the X on your browser and dismiss this article as being against you; or 2) Hunt me down and punch me in the teeth for even suggesting that we make life harder on you than it was on previous generations.
But before you give in to those dismissive or violent tendencies, hear me out. The year-round school schedule in no way means that you should have all your recreation time sacrificed on the altar of the education gods.
What I’m proposing is that you get the same amount of time off — you just get it spread out throughout the year in a more productive manner. Let’s say you get 90 days off during the summer. (We’re not really sure your summer equates to a full 90, but for the sake of argument, let’s run with it.)
That equates to between seven and eight days off per month. Factor in weekends, and you’re looking at another seven to eight days. That’s about 15 days out of every month that you could have off while still attending school throughout the year (or close to 180), leaving 185 days for instruction.
According to the Education Commission of the States, only two states in the US set their number of instructional days at 180 or more. The rest set it between 160 and 179. So even under current conditions, you’d end up with more valuable instruction time without sacrificing a day of your weekends or summer break.
Of course, going back to Granderson’s point, we are now living in a global economy where you have to compete for jobs with children in Canada, Europe, and Asia, many of whom are collectively ahead of you on learning accomplishments. To compete, more classroom time is needed, as alluded to in this article from The Atlantic.
But, these are all things that can be overcome by an extra hour in class or an occasional six-day week. There is no reason to think you would have to sacrifice recreation days in the name of higher education, and in truth, you probably shouldn’t.
Everyone needs time to recharge their batteries and do the things that they love, pursuing interests and hobbies that can feed the mind as much as any bit of learning. But no one needs three months to completely turn their brain off. It doesn’t happen in the so-called “real world,” and today more than ever, the educational world needs to resemble the real world as much as possible.