5 States Move to Longer School Year
January 13, 2013
Students in five states will go to school longer this year than their counterparts in the rest of the U.S., under a pilot program launched by the Department of Education.
About 20,000 students in 40 schools, in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee will be in school for an additional 300 hours this year. The idea is to reduce the length of the summer break so, education officials say, that students can retain more of what they learn during the school year. Officials cite statistics saying that students remember far less of what they learned in school the longer they are out of school.
The traditional school year allows several weeks, in some cases three months, for a summer break. This break incorporates the closing entirely of school buildings so that school districts can save on electricity, which in many hot states can number in the thousands and thousands of dollars in air conditioning bills alone.
Schools running year-round classes are the norm in many parts of the country, however, especially in areas of the country that do not suffer from extreme heat in the summer. Some areas of the country that suffer extreme cold incorporate longer school closings in the winter months on the same energy-saving principle.
One well-known institute estimates that about 1,000 school districts across the country have longer school years.
Response to the pilot program has been mixed. Supporters of the longer school year want to see more learning retention and also point out that more days in school means more opportunities for children from low-income families to take advantage of healthy meals at school. Most schools offer low-cost or heavily subsidized lunch and, in some cases, breakfast to needy students.
Opponents challenge the assertion of learning retention, citing studies of their own that show no appreciable gains from longer school years, while also asserting that young minds need a sustained period of non-schooling in order to recharge.
The pilot program will last three years, after which Department of Education officials will examine feedback and results.