Members of a Mississippi Senate committee got information last week about school districts that use a year-round calendar instead of the traditional three-month summer vacation.
It’s a tempting idea. After all, most schools are still using a schedule that’s based on agricultural cycles. In years past, farm families needed their children on hand in late summer to bring in the crops, so school didn’t start until after that. It’s safe to say that American culture is a lot different than it used to be.
The president of the Southern Regional Education Board told the Senate Education Committee that about 4,000 schools around the country, serving 10% of the nation’s students, use some form of a year-round schedule.
Instead of a three-month break, these districts use cycles like 45 days of school followed by 15 days off, or 60-20 or 90-30.
The thinking is that over a three-month summer vacation, kids forget too much of what they’ve learned, and teachers have to spend too much time at the start of school reviewing material originally taught in the prior year.
Shorter breaks, the thinking goes, requires less remedial work, which allows more time for new material.
This may make sense in theory, but the educators who spoke to the Senate committee said there’s not much evidence that switching schedules improves academic performance.
Mississippi Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said there are some success stories in schools with low-income children, disabled children or those who don’t speak English. Schools on a year-round schedule use the shorter vacation periods to help lagging students catch up.
Though schools in other states may be willing to experiment with a schedule overhaul, so far the Corinth School District is the only one in Mississippi using it.
Corinth is in its fifth year of using a schedule that includes a three-week fall break, time off for Thanksgiving and Christmas, two weeks in the spring and a shorter summer vacation of about seven weeks. Corinth students are in class for the same 180 days as schools that have the three-month summer break.
However, Corinth is about to have company. The Jackson Clarion Ledger reported that the Gulfport School District plans to switch to an alternative calendar for the 2021-22 year, and the Columbus district also is considering the move.
Senators said there is no sentiment in the Legislature to mandate any schedule switch of this nature. Which is good, because this is something each district must decide for itself.
Getting parents to support the idea seems critical, but the most important element has to be delivering on the promise of improved academic performance — especially in 50th-ranked Mississippi. There’s no point in overhauling the schedule if the results remain the same.
For now, schools get to see how Corinth, Gulfport and Columbus do over the next few years before deciding whether to try it.