Life, Liberty and Library
Every time I ride past an empty public school building in June, July and August, I ask myself, “What is wrong with this picture?” Yes, you got it. The school buildings are unoccupied. Students are on a three month vacation. The entire public and private school system is shut down for this incomprehensible period of time. This antiquated system of ending school in late May or early June and resuming education in late August or early September was important during the 19th century when 80% of Americans lived on farms and children were needed to help work the land. Since the advent of the industrial age children are no longer needed to assist their parents in farming. In fact, since the 1960s, the majority of kids have never set foot on a real working farm. Times have changed and so must the education system. Almost every industrialized nation in the world other than the United States operates a year-round school program. What keeps us from doing what it in the best interest of our children and adapt to the new age? It’s time for a radical shift in our thinking. We need to move forward toward a new American century of year-round education.
How would it work? Here is a tentative schedule for operating a year-round education program. Starting in January school is in session for four weeks. In February, school runs for two weeks and then during the third week of the month, there is a week-long break. School resumes in the last week of February, continues all through March and one week into April and then the second week of April we celebrate another week of “vacation”. School resumes the third week of April and continues until the end of May. The first week of June is “vacation time”. The last three weeks of June are devoted to testing, graduating students, and ending the school year. The month of July is “Holiday” time for America. Every school is shut down for an entire month so parents, kids and anyone who wants to do so can go on vacation. School resumes in August and is in operation for three weeks. This is a period of time for orientation, new skills testing, goal setting for the next year and preparing for sporting activities. The last week of August is another week-long break. School resumes again in September and runs until the third week of October. After another week of vacation, education resumes for four weeks until a week off for Thanksgiving. Two more weeks in December and the last weeks of school are over for the calendar year. The last two weeks in December are reserved for national holidays. School begins again in January and the process repeats itself.
How much vacation time does this system provide? Add up the time off and guess what? Students and teachers will have 12 weeks of vacation per year or the same as they would have if they were off June, July and August. Parents would have their children every July for an entire month of fun in the sun. Teachers could vacation for the entire month, go to graduate school or chill. School building repairs could be scheduled for the holiday month. The system is simple. It is not an aberration but a greatly needed change in an antiquated method of providing education to our children. What are the drawbacks to a year-round school schedule? Working parents would have to provide child care during some of the school year they are not now required to do so. So be it. What is more important, parent’s convenience or children’s education? Teachers will argue they won’t have summers off to get another job and supplement their incomes. School boards can add 25% to the base teacher salary to compensate them for their year-round teaching. Actually, they are now getting paid year-round for teaching nine months a year. They will be teaching the same amount of time, but will not be having one prolonged vacation. The greatest advantage of the year-round system is students don’t get out of the learning groove. They get breaks more often and can recharge their mental batteries for a week and then return refreshed for another six weeks of learning.
What will it take for this new American Century of Education to happen?First, we need to make a paradigm shift in our thinking about the American education system. It’s time for major changes. Everyone knows it, but few leaders are willing to show the courage and forward thinking to make a difference. Second, school boards need to lead the way. They are the most powerful politicians in the country because what they do affects millions of student-citizens. Let them lead us forward into the modern era of educational reform. Third, superintendents, teachers and parents need to begin demanding what is in the best interest of students. This will require a new commitment on their part to be the true professionals they purport to be. Lastly, students must demand the change. After all, this is what it is all about and they must get on board with the mission. American students are falling behind the other nations in the world who embrace this type of educational system. It is time to enter the 21st Century and do what is in the best interest of students and learning. Anything less would be uncivilized.