Sun | Oct 25, 2020

Extend school year and day

Published:Monday | June 27, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Students of Calabar High School participate in a class in this January 27 photograph. Maurice Smith believes extending the school day, as well as the school year, will boost the academic performance of disadvantaged youth across Jamaica. - Ian Allen/Photographer

Maurice Smith, Contributor

Recently, I highlighted a number of education-reform programmes that proved successful in their bid to significantly improve student outcomes in school systems across the globe. One such initiative for which I am an unapologetic advocate is the extension of the school year and day.

The idea of a summer vacation originated to accommodate children who needed to help their families with agrarian labour, which was most intense during the planting and harvesting seasons - spring and fall. Schools in rural areas were typically only open during the winter and summer. Attendance rates were especially low in summer with heat, health issues and mental exhaustion the major deterrents.

The post-industrial world has different needs than those of the agrarian or industrial eras. The global marketplace now depends on the ability of countries to harness their human capital. The fundamental mission of education, therefore, has to change from simply preparing citizens to work at one job to equipping them with skills that can transcend career paths. The ability to think critically and adapt are key components to being successful in the 21st century and beyond.

Quality transformation

Our people will succeed only when we improve the quality of schooling and change the way we think about education. This requires undoing many constrictions, one of which is the length of the school year and day.

Much research has been conducted on the role of time in schools and its effect on student learning. There are four different types of school time: allocated school, allocated class, instructional, and academic learning time. Allocated school time consists of the six or six and a half hours students spend at school per day. Allocated classtime refers to the duration of each session or period, while instructional time is that which is devoted to teaching. Academic learning time is the actual time students spend actively engaging with the concept(s) being delivered.

One needs to note that a large proportion of learning time is spent on administrative procedures, including managing behaviour. Landmark studies done in 2007 found that recalibrating the school year and day could yield additional time for core subjects, enrichment and teacher collaboration.

In 2010, middle and secondary schools in Massachusetts, Houston and Washington, DC, that had extended their year and day experienced growth of 20 per cent in math, 10 per cent in science, and eight per cent in English language scores.

In other research, it was discovered that though both economically challenged and otherwise disadvantaged students were not performing at the same level, both groups made comparable gains during the school year. However, during the summer months, the latter group regressed in learning, while their counterparts made small academic gains.

This finding underscores the need for summer enrichment programmes in disadvantaged communities across the length and breadth of the island. Restructuring the school calendar to allow for year-round school eliminates the learning loss that occurs over the summer months. We can either extend the school year or rearrange it.

We could increase the number of days that students are in school from 190 to perhaps 210, or we could rearrange the school calendar to adjust the length and timing of breaks. So instead of a consecutive two-month summer break, holidays would be more evenly distributed. Though improved achievement, reduction in teacher stress, and increased availability of enrichment programmes are advantages to year-round school, opponents argue that more frequent breaks will lead to more learning loss, increased teacher burnout, less family time and increased operational costs.

Weighing impact

To date, 75 studies have examined the effect of year-round school on reading, math, language, writing and science achievement scores. The relationship between both sets of variables was found to be statistically significant! Thirty-six per cent concluded that year-round school had a positive effect on academic achievement, compared with eight per cent on whom a negative effect was had.

Fifty-six per cent of the studies revealed that year-round school had no effect on the academic achievement of students who came from middle-class homes. All the studies, however, reinforced the point that year-round schools had a far-reaching positive effect on the achievement levels of students who were economically disadvantaged and or challenged in any way.

Given our annual CSEC, GSAT and grade four literacy results, we do have many such students for whom more time on task would be great help. Extending the school year and day is not the silver bullet that will create successful schools; however, it is one policy initiative that we must assertively pursue in our own education-reform agenda.

While we debate what is good for our teachers, as vastly important as that is, we must act now to do what is even better for our students for whom time lost cannot be regained.

Maurice D. Smith is a doctoral student at Howard University. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and maurice.d.smith@bison.howard.edu.