2014-04-13 / Viewpoints

Chalk Talk

By Edward S. Graham, PhD
Montrose Schools

When schools take stock of their resources, they typically consider items such as money, equipment, vehicles, facilities, and people. Another item that should be added to that list is the resource of time. As educators, we recognize that the time we have available with students is extremely valuable and always limited. Accordingly, when we consider the effect of our instructional programs, we must also consider whether or not we are using the time available in the most efficient manner.

The traditional school calendar largely employed in American public education for the past century was developed around the needs of an agrarian society. Within that context, it was essential that schools not be in session during the planting and harvesting seasons so that children were able to work on the family farm. While society has changed dramatically, most school calendars remain embedded in a model originally designed to meet the needs of farming culture. With that, honest reflection challenges us to ask if the traditional school calendar continues to meet the needs of today’s students.

Within a traditional school calendar, students typically attend nine months of instruction with three months off during the summer. An emerging trend around the nation is the “balanced calendar,” which takes the existing number of instructional days and simply reallocates them in a more “balanced” manner throughout the year. Within this model, summer vacation is reduced to less than two months and other vacation days are distributed between marking periods. The time off between marking periods is often referred to as an intersession. During these intersession periods, families have the opportunity to take vacations or students can take advantage of remediation or enrichment activities offered by the school district.

Research on school calendars and instructional time in general suggests that students experience a measurable loss in learning when schools are not in session for more than six or seven weeks. That finding supports what most educators refer to as the “summer slide” in which there is a regression in the knowledge and skills students acquired during the previous school year. Because of the learning loss that typically occurs over the long summer vacation, teachers spend several weeks at the start of each new school year helping students recover those lost skills. That being said, it stands to reason that if there was a way to minimize or eliminate the normal summer skill loss entirely, teachers would be better positioned to deliver more of the curriculum and guide their students to a deeper understanding of the required academic skills. Data also suggest that students who attend a school with a balanced calendar tend to exhibit better overall achievement and behavior, while the shorter but more frequent breaks appear to reduce the level of frustration experienced by both students and staff.

Obviously, a change from the traditional school calendar represents a major shift in the way we think about schools. Moreover, this order of change would require a tremendous amount of planning that could only be accomplished over the course of one or more school years. As such, we are inviting community members and parents to help us measure the level of support that may or may not exist for this concept by participating in a Balanced Calendar Survey. The link to this survey can be found on our district webpage at www.montroseschools.org or by going directly to https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/6RQSLDL .

The needs of our students challenge us to maximize each and every resource available – including time. As the beneficiary of a supportive community, we are confident that you can help us consider options as they relate to the school calendar and shape the processes that will serve the greater good of our students now and in the future.

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